Friday, February 25, 2011

The Big Sleep

by Raymond Chandler

I hate to give up on a book, but, hey, life's too short to waste time on a bad book. (What's really terrible is I didn't even want to take the time to watch the movie, which is the least I could do.)

Hardboiled crime novels are just not my thing. I have no interest in them. This book was chosen for the February book discussion, which is why I made the attempt. There is very little chance I would have picked this up on my own. It feels very dated and cliche. When it was first published, I'm sure it was ground-breaking and a huge piece of popular culture. It must have been since Chandler "set a standard to which others could only aspire" and "created a body of work that ranks with the best of twentieth-century literature," according to the back of the book. And for it's genre, I'm sure it's excellent, but I am just not into this crime genre.

The book is only mildly exciting and the plot barely kept me interested. Chandler's writing style is minimally descriptive and I couldn't get a good sense of the scene or the characters. I was not invested in the characters whatsoever, which made it hard for me to care about the plot. If I have no emotional connection to your characters, positive or negative, then I don't care who lives or dies or if any mystery gets solved. I disliked the homophobic sentiments and physical abuse of Carmen. There is little to no fluidity between chapters; it feels like reading a screenplay, one set fading into the next.

Plus, a porno book shop in Hollywood isn't such a scandal these days. Today, the plot would be: the Sternwoods let the nude photos of Carmen get leaked to the public but try to make a big deal out of a half-hearted cover-up so Carmen ends up famous because of her emotional suffering (and the fact that everyone's seen her boobs) and she gets her own reality show.

The real problem for me is that this genre has been spoofed over and over and over, and I can't take it seriously. On to the next.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Gates

by John Connolly

It's been a while since I've read a book in a matter of 4 days. But this book is excellent. I won't compare it to "The Book of Lost Things." They're in the same vein of pseudo-children's books, but they're very different. "The Gates" is a wonderful book to curl up with and get completely lost in.

This book is almost cartoon-like. I get the sense that Connolly wrote this book more for himself than to impress anyone. It's nerdy and very funny and seems like Connolly could have written this book for his own fun, to amuse himself, and it translates. The book reels you in with a somewhat scary plot that doesn't disappoint. Samuel and Boswell make for two excellent heroes you really root for. And Connolly creates some terrifying and some surprisingly endearing demons.

In general, I hate footnotes. But Connolly writes his in the same narrative voice as the rest of the story and makes them humorous in a way that doesn't completely take you out of the story. They add to the story rather than distract and confuse. Although, some of the footnotes are a little confusing, but still manage to entertain. My personal favorite is an explanation of lesser demons, including "Erics', the Demon of Bad Punctuation." (He's a frequent visitor of mine; I misuse semicolons all the time.)

This book is absolutely worth reading. It makes me feel like a kid again, getting completely wrapped up in a fantastical story. "The Gates" is 100% enjoyable and if you have any affinity for fantasy/science fiction/a great story about the triumph of the unexpected nerdy underdog, give this book a try.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Better Book Titles

A friend sent me a link to this the other day and I immediately had an "Ah! Why didn't anyone tell me about this sooner!" moment.

Better Book Titles is an absolutely hilarious blog any literary junkie (or non-junkie for that matter) can appreciate. He posts a new better book title every day and even accepts outside submissions. Definitely take the time to check it out.

I have too many favorites to list here, but here is one of them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Recipes for a Perfect Marriage

by Kate Kerrigan

I repeatedly scoffed at this book on the library's paperback shelves and refused to put it out. The title alone made me want to gag. But after weeks of seeing it stick out, I decided to pick it up.

I am a sucker for books involving food. I love them. Books with recipes, about food writers/bloggers/critics/recipe testers/home cooks, I can't get enough. Food adds another emotional level to a story. Whether it's the frustration of seeing a recipe fail, the need to distract yourself from bigger problems by baking, or trying to make up for something with a three course meal. It makes a story more personal and brings so much more to the plot.

This book is about the intersection of two woman's lives, Bernadine and her granddaughter Tressa, decades and worlds apart. It's the recipes and the struggles with marriage that bring them together.

"Recipes for a Perfect Marriage," despite the off-putting title, is a good book. It's an easy read with a lot happening in both Bernadine's and Tressa's lives, plenty of scandal, hardship, and, of course, learning how to be married. I especially like Tressa's silent battles with her seemingly cold mother-in-law. Bernadine is a little harder to like because she frequently wished her husband dead, but you warm up to her, as she does to her husband. Although, I personally dislike the undertones of Tressa's revelation that her marriage is saving her from her hedonistic single lifestyle surrounded by pervy men and self-absorbed women. I also dislike the notion of Bernadine's having a baby to see her life fulfilled and keep her marriage together. But, ignoring those twisted morality tales there is a lot to like about this book. Sure, go ahead and tell me I can't fully appreciate it because I don't know what it's like to be married, and maybe that is partially true, but nonetheless I enjoyed this book and I think it's worth reading (even if you aren't married).

Monday, February 7, 2011

We Are in a Book!

by Mo Willems

I stumbled upon a great new children's book at the library. "We Are in a Book!" is absolutely adorable. It's something I've never seen in a children's book before (except briefly in The Stinky Cheese Man, and this is ten times better): it's children's metafiction.

The illustrations are clean and simple and the two characters are hilarious. This is a children's book grownups can appreciate too. Find it. Read it.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Almost Moon

by Alice Sebold

This book is brutal. There is no sugar-coating and no shying away. It's brutal, and it's addictive. This is the kind of book you just can't put down. The story isn't exactly anything I haven't read or seen before, but the way its written, it draws you in.

I don't want to say too much about this book because I really think you should read it and I don't want to give too much away. But the book is filled with some great What?!!? moments. It centers around relationships, mostly disfunctional multi-generational mother-daughter relationships and the products of mental illness. It's riveting. But it's not about pitying the characters, except maybe the husband, a little, but they knew what they were signing up for. Everyone has their own demons, their own disfunctions, and their own way of dealing with them, or not, and how they've shared them with or projected them on the people they love. It's completely absorbing.

The ending is a little dissatisfying. Part of what drives the reader is the desire to find out how Helen is going to get out of her situation and the end didn't really deliver. But the book is still great and definitely worth reading.