Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: Rape - A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates

Rape - A Love story

Written by: Joyce Carol Oates

Published: 2003

Synopsis: Teena Maguire should not have tried to shortcut her way home that Fourth of July. Not after midnight, not through Rocky Point Park. Not the way she was dressed in a tank top, denim cutoffs, and high-heeled sandals. Not with her twelve-year-old daughter Bethie. Not with packs of local guys running loose on hormones, rage, and alcohol. A victim of gang rape, left for dead in the park boathouse, the once vivacious Teena can now only regret that she has survived. At a relentlessly compelling pace punctuated by lonely cries in the night and the whisper of terror in the afternoon, Joyce Carol Oates unfolds the story of Teena and Bethie, their assailants, and their unexpected, silent champion, a man who knows the meaning of justice. And love.

Challenges: RIP VIII

warning: potential rape triggers below.

A month ago I decided to take a trip to my local library for the first time. I usually just go to my university library or the main Brisbane library in the city, but it seemed borderline insane that I hadn't been to my nearest library in the 3 years I've lived in the area. It's a weird (and wonderful) little library, there were three copies of The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass but no other Stephen King books* and the entire collection of Joyce Carol Oates' were on the shelf. And since I had never read a Joyce Carol Oates novel - partly due to fear, partly due to lack of time - and the library was basically pushing them on me by stocking them all, I decided to give the smallest - and therefore least intimidating - one a go.

I've got to give it to Ms Carol Oates (Ms Oates?), the woman knows how to choose a provocative title**. It was the size that first caught my eye (a petite 154 pages) but the title that really pulled me in. And in the month that I had this book floating around my house, at least 4 people commented on it, mostly with an awkward laugh and a look of suspicious horror. And that's absolutely the reaction it's supposed to inspire, because it's what the narrative inspires. It might only be short, but it doesn't hold back or shy from forcing the reader to experience the full gamut of emotions. I swung from horror, to anger, to sympathy and back to anger as I progressed through the story. It was an unpleasant experience, it's a book I'll never read again but I'm still glad I did.

So as the synopsis above describes, the book follows Teena and her daughter Bethie before, during and after the brutal gang rape and assault (of Bethie, she was beaten but not raped) by local boys. While the book is told primarily from Bethie's perspective as she makes sense of the crime, the justice system and her perpetual fear of the rapists who live nearby, it also provides insights into the minds of police officer Dromoor, the rapists, and locals in the small town of Niagara Falls. The most disturbing and fascinating chapters were those that came from the perspectives of the locals hearing or reading about the case. One of the earliest chapters, placed before the horrific rape scene, lists the reactions locals had to Teena's rape, things like "Teena was asking for it" and "who would walk their 12 year old daughter through a dark park" and "I heard she was drunk and on drugs". And that's where this book really excelled, it really ground home how natural victim blaming is and how often we look for any excuse to explain why something this horrible happened***. It can never just be a group of 20-something guys high on meth deciding to force themselves on two females because they can. The woman must have done something, she talked back, she walked through a park, she wore a skirt, she's had plenty of sexual relationships in the past, she was drunk. And it would be bad if this was just a bunch of misguided locals being awful, but these arguments are routinely brought up in tabloids and in court by the defendants. In the case of Rape: A Love Story, rather than make the rapists look like model citizens who would never do such a disgusting crime, the plan is to tear down Teena to make her appear like someone who deserves to be raped and beaten and nearly killed. As you read this book it's not hard to believe that most rapes go unreported, because who wants to have their credibility attacked on every front while they try to repair physically, mentally and emotionally?

Alongside this sick and sad story, however, is a revenge fantasy. Officer Domoor, first on the scene, finds himself caught up with the case and angered by the lack of justice coming Teena's way. After the criminal case begins and the defense state that the men will all be pleading Not Guilty because they were engaging in prostitution not rape (RAGE) Domoor takes the law into his own hands. I won't go any further in describing it because, spoilers, but there is something satisfying about the victims being given the power (even indirectly) against their attackers. So many people don't get any true sense of justice or closure and while I'm not one to condone violence normally, the events of the book made me so mad - especially since they are so typical in the real world - that it was gratifying and cathartic to read about Domoor, Teena and Bethie's revenge.

The book's conclusion comes a little too quickly and neatly. After spending such a large chunk of the book looking at how damaging the criminal system is to the rape victim I wanted to read more about the healing process, if there even is one. However as a small peek into a horrifying and heartbreaking world this book does a fantastic job. Should you read it? On one hand it's a compelling and well written novella, and on the other the subject is hard to read and deeply disturbing. So I guess read it if you think you can handle it, or if you want to get angry about rape culture and need an excuse to write about it on your blog, but don't expect it to be a light read.

*I don't know if that means my area loves King so much he's always booked out, or if they like him so little the library doesn't even bother stocking him.

**My next Joyce Carol Oates will definitely be Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart. That title makes me so happy even though I have no idea what the story is about.

***I was horrified last week when I read one of the Dear Prudence columns and a commentor attacked the woman who wrote in and admitted to being raped by her boyfriend's best friend. So much victim blaming, so much anger.

Throw Your Audio/digital Book Recommendations My Way (But Please Avoid The Face)

So if you've visited my blog over the last 6 months or seen my twitter feed then you'll know that I'm heading to America and Canada this Christmas. My accommodation is booked, my flights are booked, my ticket to Alcatraz (which I keep misspelling as Azkaban) is secured. I've started making plans with several of you fancy people so that I can meet you and shower you in Australian treats. I've even started writing up lists of what to pack (yes I am that person).

I am this kid, this kid is me.
But this isn't a post about how organised and excited I am (except it kind of is) it's a post where I ask you for book recommendations for this holiday.

I'm only bringing one physical book with me, and that's Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Otherwise I'm going audio and digital books only, because I am sick of the added weight in my bag and never packing books I end up actually wanting to read. But see, I don't actually have much in the way of audio and digital books, so I need to buy/download a bunch before I get on the plane and start my trip.

So far I've bought (thanks to birthday vouchers and Netgalley)

Digital editions:
-Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
-We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
-Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
-Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
-The Circle by Dave Eggers
-Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil

-World War Z by Max Brooks
-Bossypants by Tina Fey

I feel like I've probably got an okay selection of digital books and I can easily download some books from my TBR list as I go*. But I would love some help finding decent audiobooks. Tom and I listened to the Harry Potter audiobooks across Japan and it was so great, not only because duh, Harry Potter, but because sometimes reading with your eyes is just too hard when you're on the tail end of a 5 hour train ride. Are there any books you've listened to on audiobook that you recommend? Are there types of books that work better as audiobooks? Should I stick to author narrated books like Bossypants or are there particular narrators to keep an eye out for?

*But any recommendations are much appreciated y'all.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Top 10 Tuesday: Best Halloween Reads

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted by the fancy folk at The Broke and The Bookish

I had a lot of trouble narrowing this list down from 10,000 to 10. I thought about making it a least to most scary reads list, but ended up struggling with that since I gravitate to the scariest books possible. What I landed on though was 10 books which encompass various levels of scariness and focus on different nightmarish topics, and all are favourite reads of mine. There are vampires (3 actually), good vs evil epics, exorcisms, nihilistic dystopians, creative graphic novels, and violet-eyed witches. They're all fantastic well-written, well constructed and edge-of-your-seat reads. Some will break your heart, others will make you reevaluate your beliefs, and all will demand your full attention. Happy Halloween reading!

I Am Legend - Richard Matheson
The Stand - Stephen King
The Exorcist - William Peter Blatty
Let the Right One In - John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Road - Cormac McCarthy

Dracula - Bram Stoker
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
Locke and Key - Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (graphic novel series)
Misery - Stephen King
The Witches - Roald Dahl

The Moonstone Readalong

I've been wanting to read Wilkie Collins for ages and ages, and even went so far as to download an E-copy of The Moonstone a week ago hoping to finally be able to join the Wilkie Collins appreciation club. So it's kind of perfect that Ellie (of Lit Nerd) is hosting a month long readalong of it in November. It was clearly meant to be.

It's a pretty low pressure readalong, just a midway progress post and then a review at the end but there'll be plenty of Twitter talk in between which I am so on board with. The twitter convo during the October readalong of The Corrections was easily the best part of that readalong, and in the case of The Moonstone we ALSO get a good book to talk about! So yes, very excited is what I am right now.

If you want to take part (come on, you know you want to) head over to the Lit Nerd blog and get involved.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Links

*20 books that are almost impossible to adapt - except that a bunch of them have been adapted and adapted successfully, but whatevs (Via Buzzfeed)

*David Sedaris wrote this essay about his younger sister's suicide and it's a really great aching read. (Via The New Yorker)

*Just in time for Halloween, here are 20 awesome horror flicks you can stream online for free. Definitely watch The Orphanage, such an amazing film, but if you're after silly B-grade horror you can't go past Sleepaway Camp, you have to see it to believe it. (Via Flavorwire)

*We all agree that Twin Peaks is amazing right? Well Mental Floss have a great article about how it transformed the soap opera into high art. (Via Mental Floss)

*I love when people re-imagine Disney princesses as something else, so I especially love this adaptation which imagines them as pop culture heroines! Aerial as Black Wids might be the greatest thing I've seen. (Via Buzzfeed)

Friday, October 25, 2013

"They'd held their peace and let the proxy war unfold inside their daughter's head" The Correctioning Readalong week 4


And shush with your "it's boring" and "she's pretty bad too" - I NEED THIS. Jonah is great and all, but there needs to be one adult - just one! - that I don't actively hate and wish a house would fall on.

But yeah, ok, maybe it wasn't as great as it could have been. And did anyone else feel like Denise's section was re-heally tiny compared to the Lambert brothers? I mean, Chip even gets another 60+ pages this week! I think the biggest problem was starting with Brian and Robin - did we need to know that Robin comes from eleventy-billion generations of Teamsters*? Did Brian's work for the W-- corporation actually impact anything in any way? Also, why do literary authors do the W--- thing, is it because they're using actual company names and don't want to be sued? In which case, why not just make something up? I also really REALLY hated this whole "Robin is so beautiful and smart but she dresses like a grad student" bullshit. First, because I am a grad student and fuck you Franzen I have IMPECCABLE style, and two, why does she need to dress fancy and shave her armpits** - how does this impact on her worth as a person, a mother and a woman working in a community garden? Is it because of her mobster connections? Like, has Franzen watched too much Sopranos and decided he liked the idea of the less than classy mob aesthetic? I mean, look, I know people who argue "well each partner needs to keep their shit together visually because sex and stuff" but it doesn't really sound like Robin was super glamorous and then slumped into some sort of depression that she displayed through windbreakers and white sneakers, thus causing some kind of road block between her and Brian. And what was with Denise's incredulity that Robin owns white sneakers? Do Americans avoid plain white sneakers for some reason? Are they considered gauche? I know my mum always went for colourful and/or black ones when I was a kid because they were easily identifiable and didn't show dirt as much but Robin is a grown-ass woman. So what I'm saying here, or what I'm trying to say, is uhhhhh....?

But Denise! I kinda love her. I had a sneaking suspicion that Franzen would try and make her a lesbian (because obvs Enid would hate that) but I actually kind of liked this bisexual-attracted-to-older-married-people thing she has going on. Don't get me wrong, she's still a not great person and potentially worse than the others because she's purposely putting herself in a position that could end marriages, but unlike the others she seems to understand how fucked up her compulsions are and seems to both accept and understand the ramifications. Unlike Chip, who seems to still be unable to understand why screwing and stalking a student wasn't OK, and Gary who does shitty things under the guise of family. I also felt like it was an interesting complication to read about. It wasn't without the usually Franzen blehs, but I found it a lot more compelling and thought-provoking than the other two.

Like, OK.
"She didn't understand what made her so very mean. She was unhappy to be so mean. There seemed to be something wrong with the way she thought about herself and other people."
"She wanted above all to be a private person, and independent individual. She didn't want to belong to any group, let alone a group with bad haircuts and strange resentful clothing issues. She didn't want a label she didn't want a lifestyle.
And actually, maybe it's this quote that made me love her because it reminded me of Jonah (without the adultery undertones).
"She felt returned to a childhood world of Grimm and CS Lewis where a touch could be transformative" 
 I liked that she always seemed to be motivated to prove something. That even if she wore a short skirt she was going to be the most useful summer intern ever. Or she might be cooking for the size-zero elite but she was going to feed them damn good comfort food. She seems to genuinely love her career and for the right reasons. Again, she's nothing like Chip who seems to only be where he is because Enid and Al hated it or Gary who is almost allergic to trying hard. I feel bad that I'm pushing the good qualities of Denise while she's still a shockingly bad person by regular standards, but for Franzen she's basically an angel.

Or Batman. Because she has that whole hidden side, except she breaks up marriages not crime.
Do I have to talk about Chip? I really, really don't want to talk about Chip. Although surprise surprise he's a complete dick about his dad nearly dying, the importance of the last Christmas and Denise's life spiraling out of control. Like I needed a reason to hate him more. Even if he couldn't come back for Christmas, he could have been less of an absolute turd about it. But then he wouldn't be Chip, right guys?

Also, is Chip dead now or about to be tortured in a Lithuanian prison? If I've said it once I've said it 10,000 times - Franzen writes his book like a soap opera. Everything is super dramatic and with that awkward bright-lighting that makes everyone look terrible and the sets are made of cheap cardboard and every section ends with someone possibly dying. Except then, whoops don't worry they somehow survive falling 8 storeys and being dragged for several miles by a cruise liner. And we're not going to explain what sort of witchcraft made this work.

I groaned out loud when I read that Al was still alive. Franzen even acknowledged how flippin' big cruise liners are and the unlikeliness of his survival and STILL kept him alive. Why did he even need to fall off? Is that going to add anything to the narrative, anything that his goddamn Parkinson's and old-man-grumpiness wouldn't have already brought to the table? It's almost like Franzen anticipated us reading this book in sections and was like "I'm going to cliffhang the hell out of these bitches, aw yeah" (which is absolutely how Franzen speaks btw). And this man is considered not only a good writer, but a great writer?!

One more week until freedom!***

*Cheers to Alley for giving me the heads up on what a teamster even is. 
**Ok, it does weird me out a little to see ladies with hairy pits, but as long as they're not BO-y I couldn't care less.
***The State of being free, not the next Franzen novel.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Short story Reviews: UR by Stephen King, In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and Joe Hill, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

A few months ago I read Stephen King and Joe Hill's short story In the Tall Grass and had no idea how to review it. Short stories are always hard to review, because there isn't a lot to discuss without giving away some of the critical elements, but they usually (or the ones I read anyway) come in an anthology so you can bluff your way through by writing a couple of lines or paragraphs about each story and make up a full review that way. This was a singular story, something I found when I was searching the Stephen King tag on Amazon, and I just couldn't review it in any way that seemed worth it. Lucky for me RIP VIII came along and gave me the perfect platform to write about it and a couple of other short stories I'd been considering reading. So here you go, reviews to In the Tall Grass, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and UR.

Advertisement:  "I use Grammarly to correct grammar because 'ain't nobody got time for that*' 

In the Tall Grass

Written by: Joe Hill and Stephen King

Published: 2012

Synopsis: In the Tall Grass begins with a sister and brother who pull off to the side of the road after hearing a young boy crying for help from beyond the tall grass. Within minutes they are disoriented, in deeper than seems possible, and they’ve lost one another. The boy’s cries are more and more desperate.

My thoughts: About a year ago I read a comic based on a Joe Hill and Stephen King novella titled Throttle. I really enjoyed seeing their different styles clash and meld, so when I came across this short story I snapped it up immediately.

I really love Stephen King's short stories. I think it's because they tend to be really experimental, either he's playing around with ideas that will later become full time novels or they're something so completely different to what I'm used to from him. At the time of reading this short story, the only Joe Hill I'd read was his comic series Locke and Key (which is a MUST read) and I had loved how much Joe seemed to pay homage to his father while never seeming like he was simply riding that wave of nepotism and fame (his obvious talent also helps immensely).

This story is very short and very quick. Brother and sister duo Becky and Cal DeMuth are driving through Kansas when they hear someone calling for help. They park on the side of a road near a church and look into the field of tall, tall grass and hear a child and his terrified mother calling out. Once they make their way in though, they get lost and no matter how hard they try, they can't get their bearings back.

The premise is all King. It's a quiet story, one that teeters on that thin line between panic and supernatural. Is the grass actually working against them, hiding a killer who is coming to get them? Or are they just overtaken by their own fears of getting lost and it seems like everything is working against them? Joe Hill, I would guess, brings the darker and more gruesome elements. It's not that King often shies away from these sorts of details, but it was, for want of a better phrase, more in your face than he typically writes. The blend of the quiet with the aggressive, the subtle with the dark makes for something of a schizophrenic narrative. It never felt like two people passing the keyboard from one to another as they wrote the story, but if you're as familiar with King as I am, the influence of his son is instantly recognisable. And I loved it.


The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Written by: Washington Irving

Published: 1820

Synopsis: Sleepy Hollow is a strange little place...some say bewitched. Some talk of its haunted valleys and streams, the ghostly woman in white, eerie midnight shrieks and howls, but most of all they talk of the Headless Horseman. A huge, shadowy soldier who rides headless through the night, terrifying unlucky travellers.

Schoolteacher Ichabod Crane is fascinated by these stories....Until late one night, walking home through Wiley's swamp, he finds that maybe they're not just stories.

My thoughts: I decided to pick up this novella when I watched the first episode of the new TV series Sleepy Hollow. As I watched it I was like "wait, wait, wait, the headless horseman was one of the four horses of the apocalypse?" and "Ichabod's wife was a witch, I didn't think he even had a wife" and I realised that while I know a bit about the Washington Irving story, I didn't know enough (and what I do know maybe came from the Johnny Depp film). I really enjoyed this read, although I'm a little embarrassed to say it took me awhile to get back into the rhythm of pre-20th century writing. There are so many adjectives and lengthy descriptions about absolutely everything, that tree over there, the school hall, the shape of Ichabod's face and when it's been as long between classic texts as it has been for me it's hard not to just be like "why Washington WHY". But once I fell back into the style, I enjoyed the hell out of it, even though it was nothing like I thought it would be.

Ichabod Crane is not the delightfully weird fellow I expected him to be. He's actually kind of despicable, not a bad guy per say, but he's hardly the person you root for in a love triangle. His "love" is basically motivated by Katrina Van Tassel's father's wealth and standing in Sleepy Hollow, which is made beautifully aware in a scene where Ichabod imagines all the farm animals as tasty meals that Katrina would cook him. The entire story seems to have been written by Washington with his tongue pressed firmly in his cheek, so while quotes like;
"Spare the rod and spoil the child - Ichabod Crane's scholars certainly were not spoiled"
"Balt Van Tassel was an easy indulgent soul; he loved his daughter better even than his pipe"
Are a little "oh right, 1820 was really different," they're also kind of hilarious.

But It's the descriptions that Washington Irving writes about Mr Crane, or the town of Sleepy Hollow and the town's penchant for supernatural goings-on that really makes this story worth reading. They do border on the laborious from time to time, but the people are so wonderfully drawn and the setting so gorgeously painted that it's easy to motivate yourself to keep going past the bits that drag. I mean, tell me this isn't a wonderful description of Ichabod;
"...for he was a huge feeder, and though lank, had the dilating powers of an anaconda" 
See, it's great. So come for the ghost story about a headless horseman and a stuck up school teacher and stay for the gorgeous descriptions. And then recommend other Washington Irving stories to me, because I want more.



Written by: Stephen King

Published: 2009

Synopsis: Following a nasty break-up, lovelorn college English instructor Wesley Smith can't seem to get his ex-girlfriend's parting shot out of his head: "Why can't you just read off the computer like the rest of us?" Egged on by her question and piqued by a student's suggestion, Wesley places an order for's Kindle eReader. The [pink?] device that arrives in a box stamped with the smile logo -via one-day delivery that he hadn't requested - unlocks a literary world that even the most avid of book lovers could never imagine. But once the door is open, there are those things that one hopes we'll never read or live through.

My Thoughts: This was a spontaneous purchase on my phone's kindle app when I was waiting for the bus and had nothing else to read. It was, if wikipedia is correct, a short story King wrote exclusively for sale for Kindle, and that really shows. It hovers somewhere between being a long ad for Kindle and a cute little way of tying an exclusive deal into the narrative. When lines like "Wesley went to the Kindle shop and bought X" comes up a gazillion times I started to wonder if Amazon had written into the contract a minimum of references that needed to be in the story, and considering the whole story hinges on the Kindle, it grew a little tiring. If you've read Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore it sort of felt like the Google references which almost overshadowed the story by the end. But all that aside, it was still an enjoyable little short story.

Basically, the kindle that Wesley buys to spite his sports coach ex-girlfriend -they broke up after a fight where he called her illiterate (oof) and she said he was out of touch with the world - turns out not to be a real kindle. It has the regular buy and read functions, but it's also pink and has some experimental functions. These functions allow him to search the multiverse for books that his favourite authors may have written elsewhere, and with a student and co-worker, Wesley spends a long night exploring the works of Hemingway, Shakespeare etc that don't exist in his particular world. While the three men have an uncomfortable feeling that they're peeking through a doorway they shouldn't, it mostly just seems like a harmless - albeit addictive - activity. However, things shift suddenly when Wesley explores other UR functions, one of which allows him to read news headlines from the future. It's here that Wesley finds out that Ellen, his ex, and her busload of college girls are going to die when a drunk driver runs them off the road. Wesley's faced with the decision, does he act on this knowledge and try and save his ex (who he still loves) and break the paradox laws, or does he respect those laws and let his girlfriend and a group of students die?

The story isn't particularly tense or scary, but it is fun and there are a couple of neat references to other King books (primarily Dark Tower references, because duh). There's a few interesting looks at the physical vs digital debate that take place during one of Wesley's class, and it's refreshing to have the students be like "who cares if it has binding, books are about ideas and emotions" rather than the typical garbage about us Millennials** only liking digital whatevers. So if you're a fan of King or looking for a fun short story about books that don't exist (but we wish did) then this could be for you. Also, if you're one of the The Corrections readalongers, Wesley is like a breath of fresh air compared to Chip's pretentious teaching style, so have at.

*I may have had this meme stuck in my head when writing this post.

**When did Millennials become a thing btw? What happened with being Gen Y?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Links

*First up is a video of Tom Hiddleston dancing on stage. Just, yes ok.

*Second is a recording of Tom Hiddleston reading Bright Star by Keats. Warning, listening will cause you to spend at least an hour hunting for every Hiddles recording in existence. (Via Soundcloud)

*Kerry's "feminism is not dead y'all" post was fantastic and there are some great books on there. Go read now. (Via Entomology of a Bookworm)

*Apparently if we read these books we'll be better twenty-somethings. (Via Buzzfeed)

*Banksy sent a truck full of screaming stuffed animals around New York (Via Laughing Squid)

*Here are the supposed first words of 11 famous people. I would call bullshit on some of them, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. (Via Mental Floss)

*If you're a fan of GOT you must watch this Bad Lip Reading reimagining of the world. It's a thing of beauty.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Howdy Ho! - The Correctioning Readalong Week 3

What. The. Fuck.

Thanks to Alley for hosting this readalong, because I sure as hell can't call this book boring. Just when I think the characters are all as despicable as possible and I'm not sure how much more I can handle, Franzen throws a curve ball in the way of a legitimite talking shit. A TALKING PIECE OF POO. WITH AN ARMY OF OTHER POOS. WHO HARRASS AL.

Franzen seems to be trolling us so hard in the middle of his goddamn "literary" fiction book about a dysfunctional family and A TALKING PIECE OF POO (seriously, I can't even). I mean, there are other sections which are a bit WTF (mostly when Franzen tries to get his literary on) but seriously, THERE ARE LIKE 10 PAGES DEDICATED TO A HALLUCINATION ABOUT POO ATTACKS.

If you had asked me what I expected from this book (and I guess Alley kinda did in the intro post) I never would have imagined it'd be stinky hallucinations. Characters acting like colossal assholes yes, I saw that coming, but this? I honest to god thought I was going mad and hallucinating the whole thing. I have 4 pages of notes about this section, but I just don't know if I can get past this. I mean I'll try, but how do you talk about the breakdown of two separate marriages when there's talking poo on the table?

*shakes head*

Oh and Franzen, just a note, if you're going to write in a hallucination about a racist/misogynistic/Ayn Rand-uber-conservative talking poo, don't then get all coy and describe a toilet as 'ordure strafed'.

So how terrible are both Carline AND Gary? Every now and then I'd start to be like "fuck Caroline, god damn she's awful" and then Gary would do something bonkers like mutilate his hand while drunk and wrap a bread bag around it, and I'd be like "fuck Gary, he's legit insane". They're both the absolute worst, and they are dragging those poor kids down with them. At this stage my hope for this novel is that they have Christmas in St. Jude and during a tremor Al knocks over a candle and sets the house on fire and they all die. But the kids manage to live because they were outside playing soccer with Denise. Denise's survival all depends on how awful Franzen makes her in the next section, so it's possible the kids just have some kind of Peter Pan like existence where they go wild and then steal a girl to be their mum. They've already got the surveillance equipment.

The really annoying this is, Franzen keeps trying to give this back story to their childhoods to try and reason away why they're being so awful, but it's not just the Lamberts* that are awful, EVERYONE is. The Swedish people on the cruise are dogshit. The boss of Chip's married ex-girlfriend is a bitch. Al's old neighbour who bought stock on an inside tip is a jagweed. And I don't know if Franzen's whole point is to be like "look how shitty and depressed humans are, regardless of how they're brought up", but it's really starting to piss me off. Because that isn't real life. People aren't like this. People escape rubbish backgrounds and act like civilised human beings. People are brought up by abusive dads, or inattentive dads, or wacko obsessive mothers every single day, and they can't use that as an excuse to behave like escapees from Arkham Asylum. Because you know what, playing your kids against each other is fucked up. Buying your child surveillance equipment that they'll use for a week and then discard or not holding them responsible for breaking something (whether it's tacky or expensive is unimportant) is fucked up. Picking at your wife about her injury for weeks in order to ignore the real problem is fucked up. Refusing to go to your husband's family home for Christmas because of a promise he made 8 years earlier is fucked up. Throwing out the gift your mother-in-law gave you ON CHRISTMAS DAY WHILE THEY'RE STILL AT YOUR HOUSE is fucked up. Normal people don't do these things, hell, even crazy people don't do this. It's getting to the point that it isn't fun to read anymore. Chip's section was a real doozie, but at least we got to point and laugh at how pathetic he was while he was being a douche. Now I'm just getting angry all the time and this is turning into one of those books that I'm pretty sure I'll finish and then need to spend an entire day crying in a shower to feel clean again. This book is rough guys.

With all of that said, I don't entirely hate the book. I'm not enjoying it as much as last week, and it's definitely harder for me to motivate myself to read more than 10 pages at a time, but there are bright points. Like Sylvia. I'm not sure what I make of her and her story about a daughter being murdered (seriously, Franzen is the soapiest of literary authors) but there was something really great about the line;
"She wanted him dead despite even her realisation, in therapy, that his smirk had been a protective mask donned by a lonely boy surrounded by people who hated him, and that if she'd only smiled at him like a forgiving mother he might have laid aside his mask and wept with honest remorse"
I also found the story about Enid and Al's marriage troubles, and Chip and Gary's various attempts to please their family compelling reading. I didn't like it as a way of explaining or rationalising their grown up behaviour, but it was well written and well constructed. There's that passage (and I can't be bothered finding it, but Other Kayleigh took a photo of it on her instagram) when Chip's at the dinner table for so long that Enid's speech just becomes the various grammar components, and I really liked that. I liked reading from Enid's perspective "he came home and didn't even kiss me and now he's in his lab, what an asshole" and then switching to Al "I've been in here for 3 hours with the lights out, what the F woman" because that felt like the kind of stubborn reactionary actions I could see snowballing into a marriage that endures but continues to fester for 40 years. There are so many bits to this book that I like, but Franzen is so heavy handed and just seems so angry himself that the book as a whole just isn't working properly.

So I'm a little nervous about the next section because it must be time for Denise right? We've had such tiny little glimpses at her, and so far she seems to be pretty sensible and level-headed. She also seems to be the primary recipient of her family's ire. Al obviously worships her (which is, I'm sure, a large part of Enid's issue with her), but both Chip and Gary have some weird Freudian obsessions with her. There was the satiny pecs note from Chip last week when she featured in that magazine, and this week we had Gary stressing out about her "naked legs" when they went to that pharmaceutical investment meeting. It's super weird.

Also, has anyone made sense of the medical stuff thus far? We have the potentially patent-infringing PD cure and Enid's lion pills (that scene with the cruise doctor was super-bonkers) and I can't really make sense of what Franzen is trying to say here. Is he against pharmaceutical advancements? Big Pharma? Capitalism? Investments? Advertising? Shilling for investors? The legally drugged out upper-middle class? Why two scenes of such dense and boring and borderline insane medical jargon so close together?

Anyway, I expect we've got a whole lot more insanity waiting for us next week. But guess what! We're two thirds of the way to finishing this book!

*The Lamberts thing is throwing me for a loop because of Breaking Bad. These assholes don't deserve to use that name.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review: Skeleton Crew by Stephen King

Skeleton Crew

Written by: Stephen King

Published: 1985

Synopsis: In a bumper collection of tales guaranteed to chill the spine and freeze the blood, we meet GRAMMA - who only wanted to hug little George, even after she was dead; THE RAFT - a primeval sea creature with an insatiable appetite; THE MONKEY - an innocent-looking toy with sinister powers; the unspeakable horror of THE MIST. And there is a grusome host of other stories, each with th distinctive blend of unimaginable terror and realism that typifies King's writing.

Challenges: RIP VIII


“Grab onto my arm now. Hold tight. We are going into a number of dark places, but I think I know the way. Just don't let go of my arm. And if I should kiss you in the dark, it's no big deal; it's only because you are my love.”

When it comes to Stephen King I'm pretty well-read*, but I'm not sure if I can say the same when it comes to his short story collections. I've reviewed two (Full Dark, No Stars and Night Shift) but I honestly can't remember if I read any in my pre-blog days. The silly thing is, I LOVE King's short stories, and in some cases I actually love them more than his full length books. King might be known for his horror, but the beauty of his short story collections are their eclectic mash of sci-fi, horror, family drama, fantasy, hard-boiled crime and nostalgic love story. I love finishing a story about a mysterious fog that seems to be hiding all kinds of prehistoric or inter-dimensional monsters and embarking on a bitter-sweet story of a man's love for a woman and that woman's love for finding short cuts. I guess some people would find this jarring, but I really enjoy seeing Stephen King's skill demonstrated in 20+ different stories that he wrote at different times in his life. I love to see him wrangle a supernatural sub-genre he hasn't tried before, or wrestle with his own addictions or express his love for his wife in abstract stories. They don't all work, but that's the luck of the draw with short story collections. You win some, and lose others.

Skeleton Crew is made up of 22 stories of varying lengths. The longest is The Mist, a novella 150-ish pages long, while Paranoid: A Chant is probably the shortest at a teensy 5 pages. But the majority of them probably hover around the 15 to 30 page length. Not every short story collection has an overarching theme, and considering this collection is made up of stories he'd had published in magazines at various stages in his career (from the mid-1960s to mid-1980s) perhaps it was silly of me to try and find one here. But as I read I couldn't help but notice how prominent relationships were in every story. Relationships between father and son, broken relationships that left people feeling hurt and abandoned, strained relationships between daughter and sick mother. But it wasn't simply a repetition of relationships that I noticed, each story seemed to be bathed in a nostalgic light, a mourning for relationships that were or could have been, for a childhood that had been bright and happy before shuddering to an end with the death of a parent. Some of the stories did take place in the future, with a narrator recalling the events of the narrative, but even the ones that took place in the present tense - this nostalgia or sadness for what was or couldn't be again lingered on.

I took a month to read Skeleton Crew, and broke it up with plenty of other books, and I think that this was the best way to approach it. Sometimes reading short stories feels like a chore, liking one doesn't mean you'll love the next, and sometimes you just want a narrative you know you're going to like from start to finish. But I've been warming to short stories more and more over the past few years and I've decided that I agree wholeheartedly with King that;
“a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.”
But since I took so long to read it, my memory is a little fuzzy of some of the earlier stories and my notes don't make complete sense to me anymore (let alone trying to decipher my shocking handwriting). So I'll just write up about a couple of the ones that I liked the most and are clearest in my memory.

The Mist
I really loved this novella. I saw the film adaptation a few months ago and I've come to the conclusion that films should only be adapted from short stories. The film was so close to the book, and because the story is just over 150 pages there was no need to crop out anything that was extraneous to the A-story. The one thing they did change though was the ending, and while I liked the ambiguous ending of the short story, I actually dug the hell out of the film's ending - it was so bleak and unflinching and even King has admitted it's perhaps a better conclusion. Regardless of the ending, I loved the subtle nod to Lovecraft with the tentacled inter-dimensional monsters and the whole story -which spans about 3 days in total - was infused with so much claustrophobic tension and memorable characters.

The Jaunt
This story is a really interesting - and really fantastic - sci-fi short story. Mark Oates and his family are heading up to Jupiter for his new job, and are using the teleportation "Jaunt" technology which leaves from a very bland bus-terminal waiting room. In order to stop his kids from panicking, he tells them how the Jaunt was invented and it's brief history, hoping that armed with knowledge they'll be much calmer when their turn comes around. It's a really clever narrative device to deliver the hard science fiction, and the ending... Dude, the ending is GREAT.

Mrs. Todd's Shortcut
This story took awhile for me to get into, but it was perhaps the first where that feeling of nostalgia really hooked into me. It's slow to build but there's a haunting quality to the writing which kept me interested even when I thought that maybe I should just skip it.
“I sit on the bench in front of Bell's Market and think about Homer Buckland and about the beautiful girl who leaned over to open his door when he come down that path with the full red gasoline can in his right hand - she looked like a girl of no more than sixteen, a girl on her learner's permit, and her beauty was terrible, but I believe it would no longer kill the man it turned itself on; for a moment her eyes lit on me, I was not killed, although a part of me died at her feet." 
Word Processor of the Gods
This was a fun little story about a man who is unhappy with his lot in life. He doesn't like his wife, his son or his career (he's still waiting to write the book that'll make him a millionaire) and he detests that his brother has everything he wants. So when the gift his recently-dead nephew had planned to give him is passed to him, and it turns out to be a word processor (Frankenstein'ed from a bunch of electrical junk) that has the power to delete and rewrite life, he does exactly that. It's a bit silly, and when you think about what he does it's a little sociopathic, but I liked it all the same.

Survivor Type
I didn't love the way this story was written, but the narrative was interesting enough to make up for that. A doctor-turned-drug-smuggler washes up on a desert island when the boat he was on goes down, and with no natural vegetation and very little living animals, the doctor turns to the only meat he has readily available. it was fascinating to read the disintegration of his rationality as time and hunger picked away at it. It gets a little gross, but nothing too graphic.

NOPE. I don't even think I can talk about this one. I had heard it was terrifying so I went and sat outside in the bright midday sun next to a pretty creek with plenty of people walking their dogs around me and even then my hair stood up in fright! Poor little George is stuck at home with his ailing bedridden grandmother while his mum and brother head to the hospital. What begins with the active imagination of an 8 year old devolves into a terrifying story about witches and the Necronomicon** and a grandmother that wants to hug her grandson. *shudders*

There weren't really any stories in this collection I didn't like, although I did struggle a little with The Reach, Beachworld, and Morning Deliveries (Milkman #1). They weren't bad in any sense of the word, but they just weren't for me. But who knows, perhaps you'll hate the stories I loved and desperately love the stories that I couldn't connect with. You know, I often wonder if Stephen King short stories are more for well versed King fans than King neophytes, but I think this might be a collection I'd recommend for both.

*Not Laura well-read, but that's a given.

**I really love when Lovecraftian mythos is incorporated without direct reference to it. Stephen King, Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman do this a lot, and I really appreciate how well they do it without jumping around with signs saying "CTHULU WAS HERE". All you need is a neatly place "Hastur degryon Yos-soth-oth" and you're immediately taken into Lovecraft's world.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Links

*^^Sinead O'Connor and Miley Cyrus mash-up. I kinda dig the hell out of it.

*Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize of Literature, so yay for lady writers! But then booo, because I haven't read any Munro and I feel bad about that. BUT, here's a handy introduction guide to her writing (Via The Millions)

*In case you were wondering if Bret Easton Ellis has already been a pretentious dick about it, yes, yes he has. (Via Twitter)

*A list of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's best 'little bads'. I really, really want to rewatch the series now (Via Buzzfeed)

*Stephen Spielberg is creating a lady astronaut TV show and Halle Berry is going to be in it. (Via Jezabel)

*These photos of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in New York make me really sad that I'm not best friends with them already. (Via Uproxx)

*Still need some short stories for RIP VIII? Here are 7 Poe stories you can read for free on the internets. (Via Flavorwire)

*Because Halloween, awesome costumes for little girls. Best costume? Teeny suffragette (#24) (Via Buzzfeed)

*I finally got around to signing up to Bloglovin'. You can follow through the linky on the side of the page or through this handy little link riiiiiiight here > (Via Bloglovin')

Friday, October 11, 2013

"Self-inflicted. You Pathetic American" - The Corrections readalong Week 2

   Week 2 of #MonthofFranzy and we're off with a bang! Thanks x10 to Alley for hosting this readalong, and - I assume - paying for our therapy if this book turns out to be rubbish. Right Alley? Alley...?

So get this, I think I like The Corrections.

I know Anne, I know
I honest to god was expecting this book to be hella dense and that pretentious '25 word sentence when 4 would have done fine' crap so I'm really, truly surprised at how readable it is. I really didn't like the opening paragraph - actually that whole first section before we meet Chip was a bit bleh- what with the sentences about acorns showering onto homes with no mortgages, but once I got into the swing of it, I really got into the swing of it.

So that first bit with Enid and Alfred. I found it a little confusing, like I was coming into the story 10 pages in and was madly scrambling to work out who each of them were and why Enid hides things all over the house and something about an alarm bell that I'm still not sure if it was metaphorical or literal. But I guess in a weird way it did its job, because I didn't just give up or scribble BLECHHH across the page, and I think I may hate Enid even more if I hadn't had this period of crazy weirdness to add some depth to her. So good job Franzen.

So I guess it's time to talk about Chip. What. A. Pretentious. Dick.

In this scenario Chip is Kirk, and I am Kirk's hand.
First he shows up to meet his parents in leather pants and earrings, then we get some sound-bites of his screenplay which is 10 pages of literary criticism and then 150 of boobs. Then we find out that he was the WORST teacher, like ugh, his class sounded like the pits. And then we see not once, but twice, how fucking insane he is in a relationship. Like seriously, if you ever meet Franzen  Chip then for the love of all that is holy, RUN. Otherwise he will stalk you and sniff at a couch for your scent (ugh, seriously, this guy) before masturbating over whatever sensory hallucination he manages to spark.

He's literally the absolute worst. No one, in the history of humankind, even comes close. And I think a lot of my enjoyment in this book is going to be derived from how much pain he inflicts. God I hope it's a lot.

 This first section was basically all about him. We slipped back to Enid and Alfred and Chip's sister Denise from time to time, but mostly we followed Chip as he stole money from a bartender, ran in the rain, heard about his revolting sexathon with his undergrad girlfriend and came into some money. And while I am definitely loving hating Chip. I think I'm more interested in hearing more from Denise. she seems to actually be a decent person. Like, since everyone is god-awful people in this book I'm guessing she's going to do/say something to change my mind soon, but for now her biggest crimes are giving Chip money and disappointing her mum at every turn. She seems to genuinely care for her dad (probably because her mum is such a bitch to her) and anyone who can cook is friend material in my book because, tasty benefits of friendships are my jam.

I'm a little unsure about Enid and Alfred. Alfred has sort of been set up as this distant, demanding father (at least in Chip's eyes) but he seems like a pretty cool guy. The scene where he buys the armchair to command a little agency in his home was brilliant, and I liked the little insights into his mind as he struggled to eat Denise's snacks or sit down on Chips sex-scent-stalking-couch. Maybe we'll find out that he was as viscous and mean as Chip remembers, but at this stage he just seems like a stubborn old man who, like many people from that generation, aren't exactly fantastic at showing their emotions. It actually broke my heart a little bit when he kept asking about Chip, and wondering where he was. If Franzen explores that a little more I'll maybe stop referring to Chip as Franzen in my head (nope, they'll always be the same guy to me).

I'm not a huge fan of Franzen's metaphors just yet - case in point: "Two empty hours were a sinus in which infections bred"  is that even a metaphor or was he stating a fact - but I do like the descriptions about Alfred's Parkinson's. The lost in the woods analogy about birds eating up the bread he left as markers, which I thought did a really fantastic job of laying out exactly how hard the disease would be to live with after 50+ years of health and mental acumen.

I'm not going to discuss Enid yet because she's not even a character, she's just a lazy cartoon of the evil meddling mother stereotype

And I think I'm just about done.

Wait. Notes! I have notes that I couldn't work out how to fit into this post!

~What the fuck does "satiny pecs" mean? Chip is offended by Denise wearing a tank top in a magazine picture and showing off her "satiny pecs". Is Franzen referring to Denise's breasts, because it's a reeeeaally creepy description.

~OF COURSE Chip's girlfriend is married to the fucking Prime Minister of Lithuania. He couldn't possibly just be a banker or lawyer. Jesus Christ Franzen, you better be going somewhere with this.

~Although, I really love Gitanas. I would be happy for an entire book about Gitanas. His sass to Chip about his "scars" is perfection (see title quote) - the guy was a freaking dissident and has been TORTURED. Ugh, Chip is the worst.

~Every now and then Franzen will include a single word in a characters accent, "I'm explaining to Cheep" "He's matooring" - either write in their accent all the time or never. It's just obnoxious otherwise, we know where they're from we can work the accents out for ourselves thank you very much.

Guest Post: Addison Westlake's Top 10 Funny Women in rom-coms

What with my PhD studies and reading the millions of books I've bought over the years and crammed into my shelves, I haven't been able to take on any books from authors sending requests my way. I feel pretty bad about that, because while I have definitely come across some less-than-great books this way, I've also discovered some great small or self published books which I'd never have found otherwise. So when an author contacts me and offers to write a guest post I am more than happy to comply, maybe I won't be getting a chance to read the book, but at least everyone else can find out a little something about the author and their writing.

So on that note, here is a guest post by author Addison Westlake. Addison contacted me about her new book Facebook Jeanie, and offered to write a guest post about her 10 favourite funny females in romantic comedies as she is both a lover of rom-coms and a writer of rom-coms. Before we get to her list, here's a bit of a introduction to Addison. Stay tuned at the end of her post for more details about her novel and her social media and website contacts.

Addison Westlake made her debut as an author at age 13 by rewriting the "Sweet Valley High" series. Despite copyright violations, she maintains that her rendition of Elisabeth and Jessica Wakefield as preteens in a British orphanage is a classic. Between then and now she went to some fancy schools, swapped out the East Coast for the West Coast, and had oodles of kids. Some of her favorite things in life include coffee, Aretha Franklin's inauguration hat and the sleepwalking scene in "Step Brothers."
Addison's first romantic comedy, “Christmas in Wine Country,” spent six weeks on the bestseller list in contemporary romance, women’s fiction, humorous fiction and humor. And it’s only $0.99, y’all.  
She would like to thank MCM cover design,, for the awesome “Facebook Jeanie” cover. And for the unfailing patience with questions such as “should she have an earring” and “do her pinks clash?”



I’ve always loved to laugh. One of my earliest memories is of watching Ernie—as in Ernie and Bert on Sesame Street—clean his room. I remember nearly losing it as he threw his toys all over his room while Bert sputtered with frustration.

Now, as a romantic comedy writer, I’m pretty much the same. I love a good laugh, and I love both reading books and watching movies that crack me up. In a tribute to the women who’ve made me laugh in this genre, I’ve put together a top 10 list of the funniest women in romantic comedies. Give my list a read and see if you agree. And shout out if you have any to add!

10. Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones’ Diary. OK, she might be more neurotic than funny but Renee Zellweger made me laugh in several scenes. Showing up in a bunny costume to a party that’s no longer costume (nod to Legally Blonde, #3). Really messing up an introduction at a book launch, introducing as it as one of the top 30 books, at least. Practicing how to say Chechnya and sound concerned while vacuuming in her undies. It works.

9. Cameron Diaz in Something About Mary. Yes, I’m talking about the hair gel scene. It’s a gross and stupid gag, but you have to admit it works. Cameron Diaz’s peppy, enthusiastic and happy delivery gets it right. Even though it’s so wrong.

8. Jennifer Coolidge in American Pie (Stiffler’s Mom), A Cinderella Story (the step-mom) and Legally Blonde (Paulette). She’s just totally unafraid, I think that’s what makes her so funny. Mastering the Bend and Snap. She puts it all out there. Literally.

7. Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. She’s funny, busting in on the guy’s night with a tiny dog and lots of decorations and making them all put out their stogies. She calls out their cards and makes her guy blow his nose into a tissue. And then there’s the scene when she’s used photoshop to create a huge family album featuring her and her boyfriend’s imagined kids. It’s so crazy you’ve got to love it.

6. Anna Faris in The House Bunny. Standing over a steam vent trying to be like Marilyn Monroe but it’s too hot. Saying people’s names in a scary Exorcist voice as a trick to remember them. Starting to read a letter “Dear Shelly,” stopping to look up, “Oh my god, that’s me! Wait, there’s more!” She’s excellent at being breathlessly lost and confused and clueless.

5. Isla Fisher in Wedding Crashers. She’s really wonderful as a psycho hyper nymphomaniac, jumping all over Vince Vaughn like a tiny poodle. The way she delivers the lines “Don’t you ever leave me. Because I’d find you,” with a singsongy little girlishness, then a huge cackle. She gets extra points for creepiness.

4. Nia Vardalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I love that she actually looks dumpy in the opening scenes; those glasses are really unattractive. She makes really wonderful, warm and witty observations about family and culture throughout the movie. And, of course, she wrote it and stared in the movie so hats off to Nia Vardalos!

3. Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde. Her Harvard application tape is truly a work of art. It’s hard to imagine anyone being that much of an LA airhead and being so likable, but she actually pulls it off.

2. Both Jane Lynch and Leslie Mann in 40 Year Old Virgin. Obviously Lynch found her real calling in Glee, but for a bit part she makes the most of it, propositioning Andy and telling him about her chilling first time. And Leslie Mann drunk in that sparkling cap. I’ll never be able to say “french toast” again without thinking of her.

And number 1 goes to: Kristen Wiig, Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids. I love all of them. How can Rebel Wilson make her short scenes the most memorable? The free tattoo? Describing how she mistook Kristen Wiig’s diary as a very sad handwritten book? And then Melissa McCarthy on the airplane with the man she’s convinced is an air marshal (she’s right). And Kristin Wiig throughout. Whether she’s ripping apart a chocolate fountain, crying on her mom’s couch watching Wilson the volleyball, or driving topless to get her crush’s attention, I love her.

Writing comedy, I’m going to channel these women. They’ll be my muses.

Now tell me, who did I miss???


Now that you've gotten to know Addison Westlake a bit better, here's the blurb about her brand-spankin' new book Facebook Jeanie. 

Ever wonder if you made the right choice? What if you could go back and find out?
31-year-old Clara is in a steady relationship—with Facebook. Every night after her depressing bureaucratic job (so much for saving the world), Clara comes home to her empty apartment (yes, she was dumped) and settles down with a pint of ice cream for some good, old-fashioned Facebook stalking. It's her college boyfriend, The One Who Got Away. With the bod of a God and a net worth of umpteen bamillion, he now has the perfect life—everything she could have had if she hadn't been so, so stupid.
But, wait. Jeanie from Facebook shows up at Clara's job. There's a new app they're beta-testing and Clara's perfect for it. That night she clicks on it and... nothing happens. But the next morning when Clara wakes up at noon, hung over, listening to her roommate blow-drying her hair and singing "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It", she realizes she's back in college. With the chance to do it all over again.

Back in the world of frat parties, BFFs, and long-suffering, overlooked lab partners, join Clara as she discovers what it really means to hit the reset button on life. What could possibly go wrong? And, this time, can she get it right?

Be sure to check out Addison Westlake's new book Facebook Jeanie or look her up to say hello at:

Author website:
Google Plus:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman


Written by: Neil Gaiman

Published: 2002

Synopsis: Coraline's often wondered what's behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her "other" parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures.

Challenges: RIP VIII

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

When I sat down and started reading Coraline I thought I might have made a terrible mistake, because this book seemed really, really young. The language is simple, very "this is Coraline. She likes to explore. Watch her explore", which is fine if you're reading to an actual child but not so great when you're 26 years old. But because I know so many people who adore this book I persevered, and I'm glad I did because Neil Gaiman was being a big ol' trickster, tricking me into thinking it would be like BSC: Little Sister and not one of the scariest books I've read all year.

The book does begin very simply. Coraline is bored. She's a kid on holiday in a house-turned-apartments inhabited by old people with theatrical eccentricities. At first she passes the days exploring the grounds, going past the dilapidated tennis court, through the smelly fairy ring of mushrooms and out by the well. But since it's England, the weather is really foul and she finds herself stuck in the house, with nothing to explore and even less to do. And then things become a little less simple. As she heads through a passageway which had always been bricked up before, she comes into a house very similar to her own, only different. Her parents are there, except they're not her parents, they're her Other Mother and Other Father and they "love her very, very much". The book then basically becomes a quest where Coraline needs to beat the Other Mother in a contest so that she can save her real mother and father and go back to life on the other side of the door.

It's a book full of creepy fairytale fun, there's a sardonic cat (is there any other kind?) that can talk in the Other world, three ghost children who were captured by the Other Mother, a rock with a hole that shows through the Other World's magic, and a lot of black buttons for eyes. It reminded me a lot of A Nightmare Before Christmas, that same mix of creepy Halloween with harmless childhood aesthetics. And it really was frightening. In the same way clowns and ventriloquist dolls have been transformed into something malicious and horrifying, I will never be able to look at dolls with button eyes the same way again. Maybe it was more frightening because I was lulled into the children's tale at the start of the book, but as the tension ramped up as Coraline sped through her quest I was flipping pages as fast as possible, my heart halfway up my throat. And when I finished I actually wondered how I would have handled this book if I'd read it as an 8 year old. I'm almost certain I would have had nightmares, but I'm equally sure that I would have loved the thrill of the story and Gaiman's brilliant imagery.

Neil Gaiman does a wonderful job writing about a child. Sure I haven't been 8 for a few years now, but that didn't stop me from nodding sagely and saying "of course" when I read this passage;
“On the first day Coraline's family moved in, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible made a point of telling Coraline how dangerous the well was, and they warned her to be sure she kept away from it. So Coraline set off to explore for it, so that she knew where it was, to keep away from it properly.”
But more than that he does a great job of showing just how boring and lonely it can be being a child with busy parents. Coraline's parents may work from home, but they barely seem to notice her when she comes into their offices to talk or look for something to do. They repeatedly hand her a piece of paper and a biro and a curt suggestion to "count the number of doors in the house" or list the "number of blue things". To poor little Coraline their busyness and distraction is synonymous with a lack of love so it's no wonder she made her way through that door and down the corridor, and that the Other Mother was so successful luring Coraline over at first;
“Nothing’s changed. You’ll go home. You’ll be bored. You’ll be ignored. No one will listen to you, really listen to you. You’re too clever and too quiet for them to understand. They don’t even get your name right.”

So I'm going to join the crowd of people shouting at you to read Coraline and Neil Gaiman's other children's books (The Graveyard Shift was also awesome) because yes, you most definitely need to buy, borrow or steal a copy of this IMMEDIATELY. It's the perfect dark fairytale whimsy for an October read. But if you're thinking of reading this to your kids, maybe give it a look over first and check that it won't be too creepy for them.

*illustrations by Dave McKean, in the 2008 Harper Entertainment edition

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Nylon Admiral: Coming to a US/Canadian City Near You!

To come meet me in America
Oh man, I'm really sorry for starting this off with that terrible picture/joke guys. But seriously, how could I possibly avoid it when writing about organising meet-ups in the US? And to be perfectly honest, if we do catch up you can probably expect the same level of lame jokes peppered through every damn thing I say. So...just a warning.

My holiday is a go!* I have a couple of longer-distance flights to book, but my accommodation is all in, the dates are set, and I am beginning to work out how many thing I can smoosh into every single day. And one of the things I want to smoosh in is meeting all of you pretty people.

So during December/January I am going to be in LA, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Toronto and Montreal. If you are in/near any of those places and interested in catching up for coffee or bookshop hunts or boozing it up then let me know! I figure it's not so great an idea to broadcast where I'll be and when on the internets, but if you email me at I will give you ALL THE DETAILS (just promise me you aren't serial killers/rapists masquerading as book bloggers - that would be the worst) and we will make this shit happen!


*Assuming your government gets their shit together asap- otherwise good luck to me getting my visa and actually getting to see things!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday Links

*If I could meet any celebrity I think I'd choose Tom Hanks. It's not even an acting admiration thing, he just seems like a genuinely awesome dude who never disappoints. Anyway, this is a long way around to pointing out that he did an AMA. (Via Reddit)

*Remember that time I ruined Rugrats for some of you (Laura? I'm pretty sure it was you)? Anyway, Funny or Die put together a live action video which reboots the show as a thriller. It's pretty great AND it has some Arrested Development alum, so double yay! (Via Funny or Die)

*Ever wondered what David Bowie's top 100 books are? Well, here ya go! (Via The Independent)

*Hey #MonthofFranzy ladies, here's some relevant douchebaggery to lead into our first section read. Franzen is hitting out against twitter...again. (Via Teleread)

*P.S It's not too late to jump on the The Corrections readalong Alley is hosted this month. Come on, you know you want to hate read it as much as the rest of us! (Via What Red Read)

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Correctioning; an introduction post

Intro posts are weird right?

Like I get why we do them, but I always feel a little like I'm in AA for the first time.

Hi, my name is Kayleigh Murphy. I'm a book blogger and English lit graduate and I've never read any Franzen before.

I'm not sure why I avoid Franzen. I mean, I've heard he's a colossal dick, but that hasn't stopped me from reading other authors in the past and I only heard that well after reading glossy reviews for books like Freedom and The Corrections. 

Maybe it's because I heard about him during my undergrad days where I basically avoided literary authors on principle because of all the lit-snob douches in my classes who were too busy kissing people like Franzen's ass to admit that they were just jealous that genre authors like Stephen King make bank AND write awesome books. That was a really long sentence, and I'm sorry for that.

Or maybe it's because his books are freaking HUGE and I just haven't been able to bring myself to sit down and read something when I have a high probability of disliking it. Because I just read the opening line to The Corrections and I'm thinking that me and this book are not going to be bros. Sometimes I just take awhile to get into the rhythm of literary fiction, what with the unnecessary amount of words used to describe wind and the colour of a tree and bullshit like that. So I am hoping that around page 50 I'll settle in and be able to actively engage with the characters and the story and this can be a fun and happy gif-filled readalong. But thankfully, thankfully, since I'm doing this with all of you lovely ladies (just ladies right? If there's a dude present I apologise) it will still be fun and gif-filled even if the book is terrible.

On the gif-front I have found myself a bunch of awesome "I hate this" themed gifs that I hope to use sparingly (but expect to use often), plus a bunch of squeee gifs in case I end up loving it AND a bunch of Lee Pace gifs in case it all just becomes too unbearable. Oh oh, and a huge THANK YOU to Alley for hosting this mammoth of a book. It's going to be awesome, no matter what

!I'm feeling pretty damn ready guys. LET'S DO THIS!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies

Written by: Isaac Marion

Published: 2010

Synopsis: 'R' is a zombie. He has no name, no memories and no pulse, but he has dreams. He is a little different from his fellow Dead.

Amongst the ruins of an abandoned city, R meets a girl. Her name is Julie and she is the opposite of everything he knows - warm and bright and very much alive, she is a blast of colour in a dreary grey landscape. For reasons he can't understand, R chooses to save Julie instead of eating her, and a tense yet strangely tender relationship begins.

This has never happened before. It breaks the rules and defies logic, but R is no longer content with life in the grave. He wants to breathe again, he wants to live, and Julie wants to help him. But their grim, rotting world won't be changed without a fight...

Challenges: RIP VIII

"Once you've arrived at the end of the world, it hardly matters what route you took"

So it seems like 2013 is the year of YA reads. It's also the year of swallowing my pride and admitting maybe I was a little quick to judge. When I first heard rumblings of Warm Bodies online a year or so ago, I grumbled to myself about zombies finally being given the Twilight treatment. When favourable reviews started to come out I attributed it to people not really knowing the zombie genre too well, and therefore having pretty minimal expectations. In fact, I just went back to Alley's review (which is brilliant by the way, go read it and give her some love) and I commented saying:
I have this on my 'to read' list but it's definitely going to be a library book, because I still feel like it's going to be a universal joke to make me read a zombie Twilight story.
I was ready to write this one off without giving it a real chance. And considering I've been studying zombies for the past 2.5 years and have been burnt by shitty representations of zombies in literature in the past - I think I had a right to be a little wary. But when my PhD supervisor told me the film was actually pretty brilliant I had to reconsider my stance, because if Australia's best known and respected horror expert thinks it's a nifty take on the genre then maybe there's something to it. He was right, you all were, and I was very, very wrong. Warm Bodies is everything everyone said it was, it was funny and clever and a really solid YA read. It wasn't perfect, and I'll get to that later, but i'm definitely glad everyone wore me down and it was sitting on the "HEY! Read this immediately" shelf at the library.

So a lot of the reviews I've read have said "this isn't like any zombie story you've ever seen before" and that isn't entirely correct. Isaac Marion, who surely must be a pretty big fan of the genre, actually builds on the work of George A Romero. Romero's best known for the first two of his six zombie films, but if you follow the two trilogies there's a clear evolutionary path that the zombie takes. From mindless cannibalism and the reckless spread of their virus (Night of the Living Dead), the zombies slowly start to show recognition of household items (Bub and the telephone in Day of the Dead), to organised attacks against human oppressors (Big Daddy in Land of the Dead), to choosing to eat animals over humans (Survival of the Living Dead). What is new, however, is taking this idea and showing it to us from the zombie point of view. Whether Marion actually intended to build on Romero's work is up for debate (I can't honestly be bothered to see if he's said anything to this effect in an interview), it's clear he needed to take this approach to make the story work, because a story from a traditional zombie's point of view would be terribly boring. But Marion manages the difficult task of balancing this idea of consciousness with well-known zombie conventions. It's true that they think and maintain relationships and families, but they do still attack and eat the living, rot and decompose and can be taken out completely by a blow to the brain. It advances and adapts the genre without slapping die-hard fans in the face - something that Stephenie Meyer never managed to get a hang of.

I intend to throw Twilight under the bus A LOT more
I'm sure you've all heard the basic breakdown of the story, but here's a refresher just in case. Warm Bodies is based on Romeo and Juliet, although beyond the forbidden love angle and a scene on a balcony, it's a pretty loose adaptation. Did it actually need to be based on one of Shakespeare's most famous plays? No, but unlike Twilight it's not just a ham-fisted shout-out screaming "LOOK IT'S JUST LIKE GREAT LITERATURE". Romeo, or R in this case since he can't remember the rest of his name, is different to the other zombies. He seems to have retained more of his humanity and is constantly battling with the existential crisis that is life as a zombie. He goes through the motions, he kills and eats the living, "marries" another zombie and adopts a couple of kids,  rides an escalator around and around - but it never seems like enough. And then one day on a hunt he finds himself drawn to protecting a human, a girl named Julie. He covers her in blood, pretends he turned her into one of them, and takes her back to his home in an aeroplane.

And this is where my favourite part of the novel comes in. The reason R falls for Julie is that he eats her boyfriend. And in Marion's world, when a zombie eats a brain they get a brief flash of the life that their victim lived. Some flashes are stronger than others, and R seems to live (ha! sorry not sorry) for these brief reminders of life. So when he takes a bite of Perry's grey matter he experiences a flash far greater than he's ever experienced, and Perry's love of Julie is passed on to R. It's this initial flash of life and emotion that leads to the development of our two leads' relationship and the unfolding of the narrative. R becomes almost addicted to revisiting Perry's life (he keeps the rest of his brain in his pocket for snacks) and eventually it develops into something...more. And the small flashes of Perry's life and his struggle to find a reason to live in a post-everything, zombie-infested world were brilliant. It's not that R and Julie were bad characters per say, but they are both cut from well-worn YA cloth and didn't really deliver anything new. Perry on the other hand felt more human and less like an archetype, and I shared R's curiosity in unfolding the story of his life.

The zombie life mirrors the life of the living in Warm Bodies. Both groups have banded together into larger groups for protection, they train their young to survive in this apocalyptic world, and they struggle to retain a semblence of pre-zombie normality. There's not a lot of cheer and optimism in the living camps, but there's even less in the zombie hives. They live in groups, but given their inability to truly communicate or physically respond, they're always alone.
"We recognise civilisation - buildings, cars, a general overview -but we have no personal role in it. No history"
Their hunger isn't something they have any control over, and R isn't the only one who seems to detest what they've become. All of their attempts at living life, their marriages, attempts to have sex and fascination with eating brains are so sad and empty that it's hard not to feel sympathy for these people who were once us. And Marion manages to weave these small moments of levity into the greater romance plot in such a way that it never feels overly sad or philosophical, but it's impossible to completely ignore them.

Mild spoilers - Although I liked the book overall, I actually didn't love the central premise, namely that through meeting Julie R begins to transform. The execution felt a little rushed and it was a little overwrought and under-explained. I think it could have been a fascinating book if they had to learn to love and live with each other despite their differences, differences which are impossible to ignore. I understand that Marion is writing a sequel which perhaps will explore the cause of his transformation and the ramifications, and certain hints regarding the boneys give a cursory explanation but I wanted more about the how and why and less about the R&J love story. But then I'm pretty stone-hearted when it comes to YA romance stories. End spoilers.

I don't particularly like being wrong, but when it comes to a book exceeding expectations I'll happily accept it. Warm Bodies is a funny and sweet novel that I'm starting to think might actually be my new favourite zombie novel. And in case you're nervous about it being scary (it isn't) because zombies are always scary (seriously it isn't scary) you can actually read the short story that this was based on, which will 100% prove to you that I'm not lying about it being non-scary.


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