I went on vacation. I read. A lot.*
*Not all of these books are newly published, but who says you only have to review/read new books?
The Parker Grey Show, Kristen Buckley
The back of the book: “When she isn’t waiting tables, Parker Grey doesn’t have much to do except watch reruns of her favorite medical drama and fantasize about its star. In fact, sometimes she feels like her life is one big TV show–one she’d channel-surf right past. But now Parker’s roommate, Lil, has disappeared. Knowing she’s a lot better at watching drama than creating it, Parker turns to TV for help. Inspired by the sexy star of La Femme Nikita, she takes to the streets of Manhattan to find Lil. And to start writing a whole new script for her life.”
That’s the description? What the hell made you buy this book? Why should I buy this book?
Because you should support the arts. Because someone, somewhere, put their heart and soul into it. Because it’s not exactly easy to make it as a writer these days, with publishers not giving the needed publicity and when people actually read, they only read what Oprah tells them to, and when you stop to think about it if you gave up that morning latte for 3 or 4 days, you’ve got yourself a new paperback. So you’re supporting someone who put a lot of work into a dream and you’re helping keep the dream alive and exercising your brain all while giving up calories. Everybody wins!
Also on a more superficial level…people, she takes to the streets like Nikita. I think anyone who knows me, or Amy, understands that I just couldn’t let that go. Granted, Nikita’s no Davenport, but if that wasn’t a screaming neon sign to pick up the book, I have no idea what is.
Okay. And how did that work out for you?
I freakin’ adored this book. Parker has a quirk or tick of pretty much everyone I know. She watches one show obsessively, in this case a thinly veiled substitute for ER. She is in love with an actor on said show, a thinly veiled Goran Visnjic. She comforts a friend who is so forlorn over the cancellation of LFN that she doesn’t want cheese on her egg sandwich by assuring her that no matter what the final episode implied, Michael will return for Nikita and they will live happily ever after. (A scene, by the way, that played a little too true to life and made me laugh out loud in the airport, having talked a few friends of my own off the ledge from time to time.) She has no direction in life, having currently quit music, her lifelong pursuit. She waitresses. She’s broke. She skims the till to make ends meet. She’s a pathological liar because she can’t bear to tell people that she’s really a failed musician. She has a mother who is worried about her sense of direction and sends her clips of successful women Parker’s age. She buys art supplies in a vain attempt to find something that will give her meaning. She has a best friend who she loves but who drives her up the fucking wall at times. She lives for free in a fantastic loft in Manhattan-okay, that one not so much. And the ending that is so blatantly Mary Sue, I have had to write my own ending in my head, but that’s a minor bitch and it only really taints the last chapter or so and is easily ignored. (Then again I also hated the ending to the last book in the Narnia series and wrote my own ending to that, literally in black ink on the last page where I scratched out everything that came before it, and that’s considered a classic, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.) But the rest-it’s hilarious, well written and a fast read. Pick it up.
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Gregory Maguire
The back of the book: “When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil?
Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability, and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly, and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.”
And this sounded interesting why?
I have this thing, some might consider it an oddity, but when I watch an action movie I’m not always 100% focused on the dork with the high-powered weapon that I’m supposed to be rooting for. Instead, I wonder about that nameless background character-you know, the guy that shows up for a mere half a second, machine gun blaring, a patented look of evil on his face, only to be immediately gunned down, his nameless body nothing more than set dressing… I’ve always wondered what his story was. Why is that person working with the bad guy? What the hell is he doing dressed like that, carrying a machine gun? What inspires him to shoot at the “hero”? How the hell did he get there? Most people, probably not caring. But it’s something that bothers me. And here was a book that wondered the same thing! Brilliant.
Uh, okay. And how did that work out for you?
Eh, hit and miss. Mr. Maguire manages to construct an entire civilization that, for the greater part of the story, builds upon Oz in an amazingly detailed fashion. And surprisingly, your enjoyment of this book does not hang on an obsession with The Wizard of Oz (the book series or the film), but rather, perhaps, the opposite. It was bad enough that I had read the entire series as a child and kept trying to remember what happened when and if any of this fit and now feel I have to read them again just because I couldn’t remember them, but the movie was even fresher in my mind, causing more massive confusion. Which was his source material? He mentions Ozma, not present in the movie, but the Dorothy seemed to be more from the movie than the books. Was he meshing the two? Did this matter? Apparently so, for wasn’t that the whole concept of the book, that it was an extension of the events already in writing? To take what we knew of the Wicked Witch and turn it on its head? So wasn’t that the whole point to make it make sense in the pre-existing idea of Oz, thereby challenging the popular notion that the Witches of the East and West were evil, hands down?
One would think so. But much of the book is a stand-alone experience, though characters you know from the movie or the books are introduced (ie Glinda, Wicked Witches of East and West, the Wizard) they are not in a recognizable form, being the younger version of their future selves. And while I enjoyed Glinda the Good being portrayed as a vapid, vain debutante wannabe, it’s just as easy to pretend she’s a different character entirely from the piece of fluff in the nightmare of a Technicolor dress most people associate her with. For through the tweaking of key scenes from Dorothy’s entrance on, Mr. Maguire disconnects himself from Oz and creates his own independent story and universe. Ergo this complex and potentially fascinating account of a character that was severely cut-and-dry in the movie that proposes that one person’s evil is in fact a combination of bias/misunderstandings and a lack of all the pertinent facts, falters when it merges Mr. Maguire’s vision of Oz and the events leading up to Elphaba’s death with the established events and the rest of the Oz myth.
And if I’m going to take the time to read a book about the Wicked Witch and how she was more or less misunderstood and stigmatized because of the color of her skin, and how this affected her throughout her life, I damn well want it integrated correctly with the rest of the Oz story, otherwise the entire basis of the book is null and void and I’m no longer reading about the Wicked Witch of the West but another character entirely who merely happens to share that moniker. Which is what happens, sadly, at the end. Mr. Maguire, possibly wrapped up in this politically complicated, diverse world he created, stumbles where he should shine. Rather than integrate the final scenes with Dorothy as they were and thereby showing how someone who was not innately or actually evil became so in the eyes of millions of readers and viewers, he instead chooses to reedit those scenes as he sees fit, thereby removing any impact or sense of familiarity one might have with the events. Which is his prerogative, by all means, but in my eyes cheapened what might have been a very interesting point. Evil is not necessarily evil, and things are not always what they appear to be. Politicians do mean and evil things in an effort to cover their asses and maintain power, and sometimes innocent people get damaged in the crossfire. Shocking and new revelations, I know, but with his retooling of key scenes (i.e. when Dorothy and the Witch meet in Munchinkland, their final confrontation, any and all of the Witch’s scenes where she plots against Dorothy) Mr. Maguire misses making an actual point by thismuch.
Life of Pi, Yann Martel
The back of the book: “Piscine Molitor Patel, otherwise known as Pi, lives in Pondicherry, India, where his father runs and owns the city’s zoo. At the age of sixteen, his parents decide to emigrate to Canada, taking their larger family with them but tragedy strikes when the cargo ship sinks during a terrible storm. With intelligence, daring and inexpressible fear, Pi manages to keep his wits about him as the animals begin to assert their places in the food-chain. And ultimately it is the tiger, Richard Parker, with whom Pi must develop an inviolable understanding… An astonishing work of imagination that will delight and stun readers in equal measure. It is a triumph of storytelling and a tale that will, as one character puts it, make you believe in God. What more can any reader ask?”
Uh, Michelle, this doesn’t really sound like your kind of book. Why the hell would you read it?
It’s true. Generally speaking, I avoid any book, especially on vacation, that might depress me and/or make my head hurt with questions of philosophy, life, the universe and everything. Unless it involves Vogons, Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent in a bathrobe. However, the boy picked it up, said it looked interesting and I read the first chapter. I liked Yann’s writing style and wrote the story in Pi’s voice, as if it was a true story. What can I say, I was curious. My curiosity is easily piqued.
And did it make you believe in God?
Well, let’s say it reminded me of humanity’s amazing ability to survive. Pi is a fascinating character. He is raised a Hindu by parents who are actually largely indifferent to the religious thing, yet he embraces it. He discovers Christianity at the age of 16, and while he has many, many questions about the religion as a whole, he begins to practice that as well. A year later he becomes a Muslim while continuing to practice Hinduism and Christianity. When he and his parents come upon all three of his teachers at the same time, their indignant blustering over the boy’s irresponsibility in practicing all three at the same time is quietly smacked down by Pi stating that he just wants to love God as best he can. Something anyone who has grown up in a religion that tends to condemn can appreciate.
And, amazingly considering my penchant for avoiding anything having to do with religion in general, I enjoyed this book. It wasn’t preachy, it wasn’t trying to recruit me into the ranks of the faithful, it was just sharing Pi’s philosophy–it wasn’t preachy or obtuse or stubborn about it. It just was. A nice change from most books on the subject.
The heart of the book is the story of a scared 16-year-old boy who has lost everything in an instant and who may or may not have spent 227 days in a life raft with a Bengalese tiger. While it may sound slow, the plot is actually quite engrossing as it follows Pi, the son of a zookeeper in India, through his struggle to train the tiger and survive. It does start to veer towards the ridiculous near the end, but I believe that is more a sign of Pi’s encroaching madness than the storytellers inability to reign himself in. I actually found it to be a fascinating read, with the ending both that leaves you analyzing what you just read, not because some stuffy professor is making you, but because you want to. A sign of a good book, indeed.
Shopaholic Ties the Knot, Sophie Kinsella
The back of the book: “The irresistible [Shopaholic] heroine is back! Life has been good for Becky Bloomwood: She’s become the best personal shopper at Barneys, she and her successful entrepreneurial boyfriend, Luke, are living happily in Manhattan’s West Village, and her new next door neighbor is a fashion designer! But with her best friend, Suze, engaged, how can Becky fail to notice that her own ring finger is bare? Not that she’s been thinking of marriage (or diamonds) or anything…
Then Luke proposes! [But] two other people [with drastically different ideas] are planning her wedding: Becky’s overjoyed mother and Luke’s high-society mother. And Becky can’t seem to turn down either one. Can everyone’s favorite shopaholic tie the knot before everything unravels?”
That’s great and all, but why should I read it?
Well, if you’ve read the other two, as I have, it just sort of makes sense, right?
And how did it pan out?
I’ve read all three books now, and this series confounds me. Half the time, I don’t really enjoy what I’m reading, yet I’m compelled to finish. The rest of the time, I’m amused. I’m not sure why, it’s like the character annoys the crap out of me, yet she reminds me a lot of myself and others I know so there’s that inkling of familiarity that nags me on. So maybe she annoys me because she reminds me of myself. Not the shopping thing, but the daydreaming thing and clinging to the hope that one perfect thing is going to fix everything thing. I wish it was the shopping thing, it’d be more fun, yes?
Anyway, this book didn’t grate on my frazzled nerves as much as the previous two. It’s the same Becky Bloomwood failing to battle her addiction to shopping, she’s still a personal shopper and she still gets out of every scrape way too easily. Which may also be another source of contention for me, but I digress. Basically, her fantabulous boyfriend proposes and all hell breaks loose. Luke’s insanely frosty mother wants a high society shindig in New York, and she always gets what she wants, while Becky’s parents and friends are blithely and ignorantly planning her a grassroots wedding in England. Becky, of course, doesn’t know what to do. Part of her wants the fancy, princess wedding with the psychotic wedding planner and the orchestra and the trees imported from Sweden or somewhere, and the other half yearns to wear her mother’s ugly wedding dress and get married while her neighbors cater and do her hair and make up. Wackiness ensues, as it is wont to do, between bouts of shopping. So a typical Shopaholic book. Nothing deep, nothing profound, but nice and light reading that’s definitely more worth your time than anything involving Fabio or a shirtless pirate on the cover.