Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Banned For Life by D.R. Haney

I just finished Banned for Life, the debut novel by D.R. Haney, which was released in May. Overall, I really enjoyed the book. However, I feel like I need to make a disclaimer here because I know many of you are sensitive about profanity in books and this one has A LOT. You don't even get through the first line without encountering the f-word (best first line of a book ever, by the way). Personally, I wasn't offended by the language in the book. I thought it added a genuine voice to the character, much as I felt toward the profanity used in Lush Life by Richard Price. But, I felt like I needed to give you all a warning, just in case.

So, about the book. Banned for Life is told by the main character, Jason, who came of age listening to punk and getting involved in several punk bands with his best friend, Peewee. Both were inspired by the legendary Jim Cassady, lead singer of Rule of Thumb. The book is written as if Jason is telling us the story as it all happened. I really enjoyed this way of writing because it felt like I was having a conversation with the main character - as if I was sitting there listening to him tell me his story.

The book starts off with Jason as an adult, telling us about how punk eventually led him to Los Angeles and into the filmmaking industry. He's fairly unsuccessful, as many are in this industry. Then he meets a girl and his life takes a bunch of twists and turns because of her. He ends up seeking out his old hero, Jim Cassady, who had all but disappeared from the map until Jason's girlfriend helps find him.

At this point we learn why and how Cassady really effected Jason's life. We learn all about what happened to Jason during his punk years: how he started hanging out with Peewee, how they started their first band, how that first band broke up, and how he ended up in L.A. I thought this was by far the best part of the book.

And then it gets back to the Cassady part, which got a little weird in parts and bothered me a lot once I got to the end of the book because there was no real resolve with the Cassady character. From one point of view, I wanted there to be some resolve because this is fiction and you can do that with fiction. On the other hand, it was being told as if it was real life and there isn't always a nice little bow tied on everything in real life, so it makes sense that there wouldn't be in this case. It was just a little weird to spend so much time on this character to only have it just end the way it did.

In the same way, I had difficulty with the ending of the book. I don't want to give it away for those of you who will go out and read it, but it ended a little too shiny happy for me. I was actually relieved for some happiness at the end of the book after all the downer stuff that happened in the middle part, but at the same time I felt it was a little too neat. It's funny because Jason runs away from all of his problems by moving away when things go wrong and I fault him for that even though that's pretty much exactly what I'm doing by moving to Istanbul. At first I felt like the ending was unbelievable but then I realized that it's exactly what some people do (it's what I'm doing!).

Anyway, there's also this whole side story with Jason and his girlfriend, who is actually married, which, of course, causes a ton of drama throughout the book. What I found funny about this whole thing was how long it took Jason to realize that maybe the husband was actually a good guy and that the girl was just stringing them both along this whole time. It's interesting how the people IN affairs can never see their role in it.

There's a lot of good stuff in this book - some commentary on the homogenization of society, an inside look at the underground punk scene, and some great descriptions of both New York City and Los Angeles. There are also some really great descriptions in general. Haney is able to create some great visuals with his words. For example, here's one of the early descriptions of Peewee:

"At fifteen he'd soaked up more knowledge than most people twice and three times his age, and he'd ramble through it in breathless monologues, veering from subject to subject like a house-trapped sparrow trying to find an open window: it's here, it's there, it's in the kitchen, it's in the attic now."

I love that he creates a sense of how Peewee talks by using that sparrow. Somehow it really made sense to me.

OK then, if any of you have read this one, I'd love to hear your opinions on it. And, I hope I didn't give away too much of the plot.

Next up is Pop Salvation by Lance Reynald, which was just released on June 23.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Two New Books Coming My Way

Last night I won a Twitter contest held by Lance Reynald, which got me a free copy of his new book Pop Salvation, which will be released June 23 (Tuesday!). I was hoping to see Reynald on his book tour as well, but it looks like he only has two stops, so winning his book was a good consolation prize. If you haven't heard of Pop Salvation, here's a little blurb about it from the HarperCollins website:

Caleb Watson is not like the other children at his Washington, D.C., private school. Having skipped a grade—and being younger and smaller than the rest of the boys—he finds that his Southern accent and sensitive, reserved nature set him even further apart. Caleb simply does not belong.

But on a field trip to the art museum, Caleb discovers his hero—his icon—when he is exposed to the art of Andy Warhol. In the beauty of the things that don't fit, in the art and philosophy of Pop plus the glorious camp of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its creatures of the night, Caleb will find sanctuary, transforming himself and the eccentric friends he meets along the way into his own little version of Warhol's Factory.

I love the idea of finding yourself through art. I can't wait to read it.

Also, I have been given the opportunity to receive an advanced copy of Greg Olear's book, Totally Killer, which will be coming out on October 1. The only descriptions of the book I have to offer are this quote from Jonathan Evison, author of All About Lulu: "Olear has created a veritable almanac of the '90s. TOTALLY KILLER is, well, totally killer. You'll laugh. You'll cringe. You'll weep. You may even find yourself humming Whitney Houston." And this one-sentence description from GoodReads: "Conspiracy theory and pop culture collide in 1991 New York in this dazzling and dark debut from Greg Olear."

Olear is one funny guy though so I expect that his book will rock my socks (and hopefully yours!). I'll be sure to post more information when the book arrives. And, of course, a review will be coming. I plan to take Totally Killer with me on the road to Istanbul and share it with you all closer to the release date, along with an interview with Mr. Olear. Super exciting.

I'm really excited to be getting more debut novels to review. I really want to start reading more books by lesser-known authors. I guess I feel like the biggies get enough attention from the "real" media. I don't know, what do you think?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Just In: The Godfather

I'm so super excited because one of my friends gave me his copy of The Godfather last night. I've been wanting to read this book ever since Raych reviewed it over at Books I Done Read. And, here, I have to admit that I've never actually seen The Godfather movies. Those, along with Shawshank Redemption, and Gone With the Wind, and Goonies, and just about every other classic film that everyone is supposed to have seen by age 28. Never seen them.

I never was very interested in The Godfather even, to be honest. But that was before I found out it was originally a BOOK! What?! Yeah, it was written by Mario Puzo (awesome name, yes?!). So anyway, I'm totally stoked. I've got to finish up Banned for Life first (which rocks, by the way - but watch out if you're the profanity police), but then I'm starting directly on The Godfather. I cannot wait!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Choosing Travel Guides

How do you choose travel guides? I've always been a big fan of the Eyewitness Travel Guides by DK Publishing. I like all the glossy pictures because they make me want to go see it for myself. And, to be honest, it helps me to be sure that I'm where I'm supposed to be when I get there. However, as I've been preparing to move to Istanbul (read about the whys and whens here), I've found that the Fodor's travel guide has been much more useful. I don't know if it's old age, or the fact that I actually need to know this information that has made me prefer a book bogged down with words and facts instead of pictures.

I've bought both the Fodor's Turkey travel guide as well as the Eyewitness Istanbul guide, but the Eyewitness one makes me feel like I have A.D.D. I can't concentrate on the words and find myself skipping through the book and only stopping to read the captions on pictures that catch my eye. The Fodor's seems much more informative, has plenty of tips, and gives readers the opportunity to send in their own opinions after they've been to the suggested places. I love anything that gives real people's opinions, especially when it comes to travel.

I've also been reading a Let's Go travel guide about Europe, which I have found to be quite helpful, yet brief. Granted, it's trying to cover some 24 countries in one book (1124 pages!) so brief is a good thing, but I feel like if it were the only knowledge I had of those places then I'd miss out on a lot. With the abundance of travel guides available out there, I find it difficult to know which ones to choose or trust, so I often end up picking them at random, which is why I'm curious about what you all think of the travel guide industry. What do yo do? Do you always buy the same brand? Do you even use travel guides at all? How do you go about choosing the best guide for your vacation?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Summer Reading!

OK, I'm officially back. School is now over and all I have to do right now is work and prepare for my move to Istanbul. I've already begun packing up my apartment, which began with packing up, giving away, and selling most of my books. The only books that have been spared from being stuck in storage for the next 9 months are language books, travel books and books that I think I'll have time to read before I leave (or while I'm there). So here's a little peak at the books I plan to read in the coming months:

First up is "Banned for Life," a debut novel by D.R. Haney that was released in May. I first heard about this book from reading this wonderful post by Haney on The Nervous Breakdown and I immediately fell in love with his writing. I received my copy of the book yesterday and cannot wait to begin reading it. Here's a little blurb about the book from Amazon:

For almost two decades, rumors have swirled around Jim Cassady, the quasi-legendary punk-rock frontman who disappeared without a trace shortly after his girlfriend’s apparent suicide. Though largely written off as dead, some claim to have had brushes with Cassady, now said to be homeless and bumming change on the streets of his native Los Angeles. Intrigued, Jason Maddox, a would-be filmmaker and Cassady fan, decides to investigate. But the man he eventually finds and befriends is damaged in ways he could never have imagined, and Jason’s own life begins to unravel as he tries to save the hapless Jim Cassady from himself.

A mystery wrapped in a love letter to overlooked American rebels, “Banned for Life” has already amassed a cult following in L.A.’s underground music scene, where D. R. Haney has long been a fixture.

Next up are a couple of books that I really should have read by now, but haven't because I've been inundated with grad school work. I mean, really, who hasn't read "The Memory Keeper's Daughter," and "The Year of Living Biblically" yet? Oh, me. So I'm going to finally get these two out of my TBR pile.

I'm also looking forward to finally reading "Radiant Days," a novel by yet another TNB author, Michael A. Fitzgerald. From Amazon: "FitzGerald's quiet debut centers on Anthony, a Gen X-er slacking away at a meaningless but remunerative Web producer job in dot-com–boom San Francisco. Anthony's life takes an unexpected turn when he meets Hungarian bartender Gisela at a local watering hole. Beautifully irresistible (and entirely untrustworthy) in the manner of all foreign femme fatales, Gisela quickly persuades him to travel with her to Hungary, supposedly so that she can be reunited with her missing son. In Budapest, the two meet jaded British war correspondent Marsh, a Graham Greene–like character who becomes the third leg in a rapidly evolving love triangle."

Next up is "Chasing the sea" by Tom Bissell, a book that I've owned for about five years and still haven't gotten around to reading. I picked up the book after reading an article by Bissell on the same subject. It's a fascinating story about an inland sea in Central Asia that all but disappeared because the rivers feeding into and out of it were overused for irrigation and what-not by surrounding cities. He travels to the now-abandoned fishing villages that surrounded the sea and discovers now-exposed shipwrecks. He also explains the ramifications of the drying up of the sea. It really does sound fascinating so I can't explain why it's taken me so long to get to it. But I'm really going to read it now that I'll be traveling to that part of the world.

Another book that's been biding its time for awhile on my shelf is "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck. I don't know how this never got assigned to me while I was in high school, but somehow I never read it. Steinbeck is one of my most favorite authors of all time, so I'm certain I'll enjoy this one.

A couple of others that made the list are "Say you're one of them," "Godless," and "Measure of the Heart."

The rest will be waiting for me when I get back from Turkey. By then, I'm sure I'll have added many a must-read to my pile.

How about you? What are the books you're looking forward to reading this summer?