Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mistaken identity

Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption
by Jennifer Thompson Cannino and Ronald Cotton

Jennifer Thompson was a 22 yr. old college student when she was brutally raped at knife-point. Head-strong and positive of her memory for details in the identity of her rapist, she picks Ronald Cotton out of a line-up. Ronald is sentenced to prison for life. Sure of his own innocence and never backing down on proving it, during his 11th year in prison, he submits to a DNA test which he heard about after having watched hours of the OJ Simpson trial on the prison tv. Through a mismatch of DNA on the crime scene and a final confession from the actual rapist, Ronald Cotton is set free. Jennifer Thompson Cannino, mortified and guilt-ridden at having chosen the wrong man, asks to meet Ronald Cotton and what she encounters is forgiveness. Forgiveness and a man who would become a good friend and co-author of this book. Tragic, inspirational, frightening, remarkable story. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Married.....with children.

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

This is the first book I've read by Louise Erdrich. I've heard about her writing and when I read a review of this book, her newest, I couldn't wait to receive it from Amazon. What I wish I had known before I read it was that Louise Erdrich had a tumultuous marriage with her late husband, Michael Doris, another author, (who committed suicide in 1997), that might or might not have given her basis for the story in this book. I might have looked at the characters, at the story as a whole, differently if I had known and might have liked it more.

In Shadow Tag, we enter the lives of Gil and Irene and their 3 children, brilliant 14 year old Florian, 11 year old Reil, and 6 yr.old Stoney....all observers of their parents' intense, dangerous unravelling of their marriage. Irene has discovered that Gil has been secretly reading her diary and in her anger at the lack of privacy thrust upon her, she decides to keep a second diary in which the truths of her thoughts are recorded and stashed away in a safe deposit box at the bank. The diary that Gil reads, kept in a drawer in the basement, is filled with lies that Irene concocts to drive Gil mad, in hopes that he will finally leave her. Gil is an artist who has found fame by painting Irene in dark, sometimes humiliating poses, all throughout their marriage. He is a moody, sometimes abusive personality who is madly and jealously in love with Irene, wanting to possess her in every possible way. Irene, working on her doctoral thesis on an Indian artist, fell out of love with Gil a long time ago. She's become an alcoholic and is desperate to protect her children from the fury of their father. Thus the deceit in one of the diaries and the warped 'game-playing' that goes on behind closed doors.

It's a very interesting concept, that of the 2 diaries, but I felt the story was a bit thin for some reason. Had I known that Erdrich was throwing in some half-truths here and there, I might have paid more attention. As is, the book left me feeling less than thrilled. I didn't like Gil or Irene and their children didn't seem believable to me. But the story flowed and moved quickly toward a tragic ending, not a complete surprise, but semi-satisfying nevertheless.

And that's what I have to say about that.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Divine Reflections.

I read this book because I received a revelation from God telling me to do so. And who am I to deny direct instruction from God?

Millions of followers of the fastest growing religion on the planet operate in much the same fashion. From the time when Joseph Smith found the ancient Book of Mormon on the direction of a sleep-induced visit from the God-sent angel Moroni and declared himself the mouthpiece of God, people from all over have flocked to Mormonism as a way to more directly connect themselves to the heavens.

I have read both Into the Wild and Into Thin Air before this one. All 3 of these books focus more or less on obsessions - Into the Wild with an obsession to get back to nature, Into Thin Air with an obsession to reach earth's highest point, and Under the Banner of Heaven with an obsession of religion by many members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.

This book is framed around the blurb written at the bottom of the cover page - a murder by 2 brothers of one of their sisters-in-law and their 14-month old niece on the direct order of God. It uses this crime as a base from which to delve into the history of Mormonism, and just what makes some extreme Mormon's believe that they are above the law and are entitled to act in whichever way they please. Just so long as God instructs them.

Krakauer is not out so much to lambaste Mormonism, but rather to explain its origins and the reasoning behind some of its radical splinter sects. In his remarks following the novel, Krakauer mentions his original intentions for the book were to write a history of Mormonism. Noting that such a topic may be exhausted, he decided to write the history of Mormonism with a slightly different focus. In the end, he produced a book that mainly lambastes Mormon fundamentalists, a splinter sect of Mormonism that adheres strictly to the original teachings of Joseph Smith, mainly that the Mormon church should never have abandoned the practice of polygamy. The result is a population of people that will not refrain from murder, rape, and child abuse to uphold their beliefs. Because God told them to. And God is above the law.

I know not all Mormon's are crazy and that most are not. But Krakauer's descriptions of Mormon fundamentalism and its followers gives me goosebumps.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sad yet Stunning.....

I read The Reader when it first came out in the late '90's, by recommendation of my mother. A powerful story that stayed with me, a book I passed on to many people, an excellent movie which came out last year, but I decided I needed to revisit the story after almost 12 years have passed and so I downloaded it onto my iPod and listened to the heart-wrenching story all over again of a 15 year old German boy, Michael Berg, who falls in love with a 36 year old woman, Hanna, whom he knows nothing about. The story is divided into 3 parts...the first describes their love affair, the middle part takes place 10 years later when Hanna is on trial for war crimes that occurred when she was an SS guard at a concentration camp, and Part three when Hanna is imprisoned for those crimes. We are taken deep into Michael's heart and mind and see how Hanna has affected everything in his life, how he tries to come to terms with her crime and the reasons she is imprisoned, how he tries to reconcile his feelings towards the end of the book. A great study into the human character, a very sad story, and one I highly recommend.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Four Grueling Months. One Nosebleed.

What do you gain after completing a four, or is it a five, month mindlessly difficult mission involving scouring through a book with over 400 interconnected characters, each carrying their own interconnected plot line? Is it a big feeling of relief? Is it knowledge? Is it blood on the cover caused by your friend Laura accidentally punching you in the nose while trying to shove a food particle in your nostril in the backseat of a bouncy van only 250 pages in? I still can't tell you. I don't understand the feeling. Never before have I finished a book and not known more about what transpired between pages 1 and 784.

I looked to Amazon and Wikipedia for clarification. What did I learn? Maybe after the 8th reading one begins to understand. Don't worry about not following the storyline and getting lost for a few pages here and there. Every person who claims to have read this book is lying.

Well I did read this book. But I feel like that is a lie.

Tyrone Slothrop, the story's main character (if you can call it that), a Harvard man trained in Pavlovian methods as a young young boy, reaches an erection every time he senses a rocket is about to land in his vicinity. Roger Mexico, haplessly in love with some girl named Emily, traces the rockets' landing points to a Poisson distribution scattered throughout London. I took a statistics course in college once. I don't remember what a Poisson distribution is. So I'll stick with the erections.

The problem is, I think Slothrop started having erections without the rockets. And Roger Mexico, well, I lost track of him somewhere along the way. Eventually, the story expands into a search for the one, true, and only Shwarzgërat rocket, number 00000. Slothrop dresses like a pig in Germany, beds a porn star and her 14-year-old daughter, characters named Enzian and Tantivy surface somewhere along the way, and a mess of pages and squares and numbers and names and places and run-on sentences and technical rocket jargon and Imnipolex G, a rare plastic, and the Army and the English and Europeans and poems and songs and more and more mingle into the picture and muddle with the brain.

Stories, as I was taught in every English class, follow an arc. This book, with the word "rainbow" in the title, should too. But searches for this rainbowed arc remain inconclusive. Too many nights spent being overwhelmed by its complexities and falling asleep after 2 sentences. Too many times knowing my energy level wasn't ready to pay attention to Pynchon's sentences for more than 2 minutes. Too many times tricking myself into believing that somehow, someway, this story would make up for itself and piece itself back together in time for me to form coherent thoughts about the words that lay in front of me. And yet I pulled through, experiencing my own emotional rainbow, peaking in the middle and falling down faster and faster until the inevitable crash at the very end. But the arc was complete. I just can't find it in the book. But maybe that's the point.

I don't know if I decided to keep reading this book more because I didn't have a promising "next up" on my nightstand or more because there weren't 200 pages of footnotes at the end, but I have finished it, and I feel like mashed potatoes. Maybe I can have a more fulfilling blog post after my 8th reread.

The Sweet Smell of Success

Okay, so let me get this straight. If you were born right around January 1st, have 24-hour access to a fancy computer console, are sprung from Jewish parents who worked in the garment business in New York City, are Asian, practice for a diligent 10,000 hours on your hockey skillz, cut down on your summer vacations, harvest a rice paddy, study your math, and are willing to speak up if you're fairly sure that the Captain is crashing your airplane, then you, TOO, can be an Outlier.

Success. Ah. How very sweet.

Julie Ritchey reviews this book in a much more articulate manner than I will be able to do, so I'll just provide you with this secret wormhole Internet link that will take you immediately to there:

I liked this book. Somewhere in the middle, amongst the talk of Jewish lawyers (although now I'm curious, Mom, do we come from a lineage of garment workers?) and angry Kentuckians, my interest started to wane. But then something told me that I should probably keep going, that I wouldn't be disappointed if I pushed on a bit. And then I reached the chapter entitled "The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes" (truly amazing), and from that point on, this book rocked my world.

So, yes, I recommend it. Very compelling stuff, scary, inspiring. And in the end, you're left with a certain feeling of empowerment, that if you work hard, and are willing to make the changes to both your own life and to certain systems at large, then success isn't such an intangible thing after all.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

OOOOk here I go

I know you are probably wondering why I haven't posted in a very long time. I'd like to begin this post with an apology for that.

Good morning. And thank you for joining me.
Many of you in this blog are my friends. Many of you in this blog know me. Many of you have cheered for me, or worked with me, or supported me, and now, every one of you has good reason to be critical of me.
I want to say to each of you, simply, and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in.

Wait...thats tiger woods' apology not mine. Ok let me try again....

This afternoon in this room, from this chair, I testified before the Office of Independent Counsel and the grand jury.
I answered their questions truthfully, including questions about my private life, questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.
Still, I must take complete responsibility for all my actions, both public and private. And that is why I am speaking to you tonight.
As you know, in a deposition in January, I was asked questions about my relationship with Monica Lewinsky. While my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information.
Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible.

Oh shoot! thats not me either.....Ok final try.

I'm sorry I have neglected this blog! I will be more diligent in the future! And now I present Allison Sanchez presents: A million reviews for the ages:

Her Fearful Symmetry-Audrey Niffeneggar

Here come the words of death. I had VERY high hopes for this novel and was looking forward to it for years. This is the first novel Niffeneggar has written since 2003's The Time Traveler's Wife (which is one of my favorite books ever).

The novel begins with dying. Elspeth, suffering from a long illness, dies and is buried by her lover. She lived in a flat in London adjacent to Highgate cemetery where many famous historical figures are buried. In her will, she leaves the flat to the 18 year old American twin nieces she has never met, with the condition that they must live in the apartment for one year and that their parents (Elspeth's twin sister and her husband) never set foot inside. Thus, by following several different characters (the too tightly bound twins, Elspeths grieving lover, Elspeths obsessive compulsive agoraphobic neighbor, her estranged guilt ridden twin sister, and finally Elspeth herself) this tale explores love, loss, betrayal and the ties that bind us.

This book started off in a slow, lovely way. I felt drawn in by the characters with their profound lonlieness, secrets, and lost identities. But slowly it started to lose me. Situations (like the main romance) felt forced and plays with the supernatural felt contrived and eventually too weird. The characters started off slightly unlikeable but with promise. In that way that you think as the novel progresses you will begin to love them for their faults and their courage to attempt to overcome them. But alas, they just become more and more selfish culminating in an ending forced by one of the twins that is cruel and childish.

I wouldn't say "Don't read this book" but I will say expect to be drawn in to the journey and then ultimately, completely disappointed by where the author takes you.

The Thirteenth Tale-Diane Setterfield

Half of this book (every other chapter) was really enjoyable and captivating, the other half made me want to tear my own eyes out.

Ok, that's an exaggeration. The deal is this, A very famous author who has never given an honest interview or account of her life/past contacts our narrator, a bookstore owner who lives in her books and is unable to step out in the world and live her life. The author read one of the bookstore owners little read, published, historical articles and has nominated her to be the one to tell her true story to. Our narrator moves into the eccentric old lady's home and the author begins her story.

The book alternates between the story the Author is telling and our narrators own thoughts about the story and woes. The story is a nod to gothic literature (and even mention Jane Eyre several times). I found myself captivated by the story but I hated the chapters where the book owner reflected upon it.

These are the reason the narrator is completely unreadable:

A. She's exceedingly stupid, at every twist in the story you figure things out about 30 pages before she does. It'll take her 4 chapters to realize that a letter engraved in a spoon that happens to be the same letter as the Authors last name stands for the author's last name. And then she acts as if she's so clever and god's gift to the world because she's figuring out mysteries on a 3rd grade level.

B. Our little miss Nancy drew relates every part of the authors story/childhood to her own and painfully (for us) dwells upon all her uninteresting sorrows

C. I hate her. And my opinion is correct.

So Bottom Line: I did not like this book as a whole but parts were great.

Revenge of the Spellmans-Lisa Lutz

This is the third book in a series of books about the Spellman family. They are a dysfuntional family of private investigators that lie to, bribe, and ransom eachother, are constantly bugging one another and recording conversations, and happen to be extremely likeable despite all that.

The book's narrator is the middle Spellman child, Izzy, who is trying to solve whatever mystery is in the book (which usually ends up winding her in jail several times), and deal with her crazy family (and her own neurosis brought on by them) while trying to learn how to be a somewhat funtional adult.

These are fluff reads but super enjoyable and actually genuinely funny at times. I would recommend them (the first is The Spellman Files) as "pretend it's warm enough to be on the beach" reads.

The Maze Runner-James Dashner

I read the Maze Runner while laying on soft warm sand on a pristine beach, with the sun beating down on me, hearing the waves gently crash against the shore while monkeys played in the near distance in Costa Rica (this is irrelevant to the review I just wanted to make you feel jealous for a moment.)

still feeling jealous?...good. goood keep feeling that way....... OK on with the review

I chose this teen lit apocalyptic novel mostly because I love teen lit apocalyptic fiction, but also because I love the Hunger games and this promised to be of similar awesomeness.

It wasn't.

It was ok, a boy wakes up in this world filled with other boys around his age with no memory of his past. None of the boys remember who they are or why they came to this place. All the know is that outside the giant stone walls that hold their prison is a seemingly unsolvable maze filled with monsters that come out at night. The boys have created their own society with sustainable agriculture and farm animals and jobs where every boy has his place. The most esteemed (and dangerous) job is maze runner. The maze runners spend all day running through the maze and documenting its route (Every night the maze changes itself) trying to find a pattern that will lead them out of this place. They must get back before nightfall or suffer a terrible death at the hand of the monsters. Anyway blah blah blah, who is keeping them there, who are they, whats the mystery of the maze, what happened to the outside world etc.... It all ended up being lamer than I hoped it would be. And yes "lamer" is a common reviewing term that all good book reviewers keep handy in their venacular.

Hunger Games-Suzanne Collins

Alright, So the next two on the list are rereads. I admit it. So SUE me. But I've been suggesting these two teen fiction reads to everyone I know and I got so jealous hearing how much people were enjoying them that I just had to read them again myself. These books are just awesome. Read them. I don't care who you are, you will LOVE them.

They are set in a future where the United States no longer exists. Instead, 12 districts are united by the Capitol. The districts are kept poor and overworked by the Elite and wasteful Capitol and evil president Snow. We learn that 74 years ago the districts revolted against this tyranny and were defeated. As punishment for their mutany the capitol forces every district to participate in the annual Hunger Games. Each district must draw the names of one boy and one girl between 12 and 17 to be sent to an arena to compete to the death for the televised entertainment of the capital. The novel opens with Katniss, a distirct 12 member, who volunteers to go to the games, when her 12 year old sisters name is pulled.

It just has everything in it: Excitement, Romance, Violence, Government Conspiracies all in an awesome Dystopic Future. Its teen lit, but everyone should read it.

Catching Fire-Suzanne Collins

The just as awesome sequel to The Hunger games!

Shutter Island- Dennis Lehane

I said a little how I felt about this book in my comment to Dorothy's review. I really did enjoy it. It was creepy and trippy.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth-Carrie Ryan

Ok, this is my last apocolyptic, dystopic teen book (its suddenly becoming crystal clear how my number of books is so high)

This last novel employs the only thing in literature that can make a good novel a great novel, Zombies!

Mary lives in the last gated human stronghold on Earth, several generations after the Zombie Apocolypse. Life has gone back to more primitive times and stories of far away places, electricity, and tall buildings have become nothing but fairy tales and legends. All Mary has ever known is her village and the endless forest she sees through the gates filled with the undead who claw and gnaw at the chain link fence that hold them back. The village is ruled over by the sisterhood who install religion and order over the remaining humans.

I was excited over this book when I read about it online and i literally went to four bookstores that were wold out of it before i could locate it and I was semi-dissapointed. I loved the premise. Most Zombie stories and movies happen right when things are breaking out and everyone is running for their lives. I thought setting this novel after people have been living with zombies for many years was interesting. Unfortunately the story fell a little flat. Mary and the relationships she has are uncompelling and its sort of a depressing read. I enjoyed it though cause how can you not enjoy zombies? Don't even bother trying to answer that quesiton, because it was more of a FACT.

ps on a lighter note-should zombies attack in real life and kill everyone you know and love, head to kennebec SD, Its the middle of nowhere and Thats where Im going to start our new colony of uninfected humans. You scoff now, but after the zombie apocolypse Im guessing you will remember this post and head to kennebec. It will give you the hope you need to survive. Youre welcome.

Beautiful Creatures-Tracy Chevalier

And FINALLY, we come to the last book. It's a novel based on real-life women fossil hunters who discovered some of the first dinosaurs in a time when it was not kosher to have unmarried women fossil hunters upstaging the men.

I couldn't put this book down but unfortunatly that wasn't because it was amazing. I just kept waiting for something to happen, for the good part to begin. It was like ok great character set up Tracy I cant wait for the action to start happening. Except it never did. I enjoyed the style of writing and i liked the characters but I dont think she found quite the right story angle that would make the actual story she was trying to tell pop. I'm just not sure what she was trying to say. Women can be friends from different classes except only sort if, Women can do anything except theyll be miserable outcasts, fossil hunting rocks in a really boring way? Pick any one of the three i guess. This book ended with me feeling flat and wishing that another novelist had taken the same historical people and come up with a better storyline.

So there you go, I am going to start the corrections as soon as I finish the current novel I am reading "the Girl with glass feet" which by the way is so far excellent. If you've read this far then BRAVO, you can count this post as one of your 50 books.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane.

I learned of a new quote a couple of weeks ago. "Don't judge a book by its movie." Shutter Island, the movie, was excellent in its own right but the book was even better (as is usually the case...thus the quote). I don't want to give anything away so I'll keep this short and tell you what you probably know from the movie previews. U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels is dispatched to an asylum for the criminally insane to help find an escaped patient. This is a fast-paced, exciting story, Lehane all the way. (Read "Mystic River" also!) That's really all I want to say. Anything else will just set you up for spoilers. Just read it!!