Friday, July 31, 2009

Sic By Brin Friesen

Brin Friesen's debut novel, Sic, is a harsh look at the reality of the bullying that takes place in schools everywhere. Through the eyes of younger Jasper Finch, one of the bullied, we see the complete desperation and anxiety some children face when going to school each day where they are forced to interact with their tormentors. While I'd like to think that bullying doesn't ever get as far as it did in this book, I'm sure it really does. Otherwise we wouldn't have school shootings and teen suicide, both of which are addressed in this novel.

Friesen's book really made me think, but it was incredibly uncomfortable to read. First, because I was one of the mean girls in elementary school so it pained me to read about the girls (and boys) like me who relentlessly taunted the less popular children. Back then I thought it was hilarious, but now when I think about my behavior between ages 10 and 12 I feel terrible. At one point in the book, Finch is kicked in the shins by one of the mean girls and I literally cringed because I cannot even count the number of times I kicked little boys in the shins back in elementary school.

Later, the book became easier for me to read because I understood Finch's anxiety upon entering high school. Right before I began middle school my family moved to a new town. And then moved again just before my high school years, so I know longer had the luxury of being one of the mean girls. I didn't fit in and did my best to be invisible during those years. Unfortunately for Finch, he wasn't able to be invisible because he moved up to high school with the same people who had beat him up and hated him in elementary school.

This book is very "Lord of the Flies," only worse, because it's all happening in a place where children are expected to feel safe and are under the eye of protecting adults. It's definitely worth reading and will really make you think, but it will also make you cringe and squirm. Some of the fight scenes are particularly brutal and reading about children talking so much about sex was hard for me to read. I want to believe all children are innocent and pure, but I know that's just not the case. As I've mentioned, this book made me think back to my own childhood - many times - and no matter how much I tried to debunk it, saying children don't do this or children don't do that, I knew, from my own experience, that this really was how (some) children act. I think often children are worse than adults when it comes to fowl language and talking about sex, and that really comes through in this novel.

I don't recommend this book if you're looking for something light and cheery. This is definitely not a pick-me-up type book. It feels like it is at one point toward the end, when you're cheering for Jasper Finch and you'll think, "Yes! Let's end on a high note! I knew this was leading to a happy ending!" But then, just as with real life, Jasper (and the reader) are only able to revel in the glory for a short time before the joy of it fades and we're plunged back into reality. The last section of the book makes the other two parts worth reading, so definitely keep going even if it feels a little slow in the middle. You won't regret it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Salon: Surprise Delivery

I stopped by my apartment yesterday to get the last of my things and start cleaning for the next tenants and was surprised to find a book on my back porch. It was a delivery from Medallion Press. They shipped me a copy of Sorrow Wood, the new book by Raymond L. Atkins that will be released on August 1.

I'm so super excited about this book because I really liked Atkins' first book, The Front Porch Prophet, which I reviewed here. The good news too is that I've got a plane ride coming up this Friday so I'll have a great opportunity to read it!

Here's the plot blurb from Amazon:

When the charred body of a promiscuous, self-proclaimed witch is discovered at a farm called Sorrow Wood, nearly everyone in the sleepy town of Sand Valley, Alabama, is drawn into the case. As the murder probe continues, a multitude of secrets are revealed, including one that leads back to the rock castle home of Wendell Blackmon, Sand Valley's police chief, and his beloved wife Reva. The town's inhabitants ruminate on the true meaning of commitment, love, death, hope, and loss as they delve deeper into questions such as Who was this woman? Where did she come from? and What did her presence mean to Wendell, Reva, and the townspeople of Sand Valley?

Review to come soon!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Interview with D.R. Haney on The Nervous Breakdown

So, I was planning on doing an interview with D.R. Haney, author of Banned for Life, which I reviewed here, but I've been super busy with packing for Istanbul and moving out of my apartment so I haven't had time. THEN, today I looked on The Nervous Breakdown and there's a fab interview with him and one of the other TNB authors, so I thought I'd just post a link here for any of you who are interested. I think the interview will give you more insight about the book. And, really, who doesn't love reading interviews with authors?

ALSO, D.R. Haney will be doing a reading in L.A. this weekend. If you're in town, you should check it out. Here's the details:

Date: July 25, 2009, 8:00PM
Venue: Stories
Location: 1716 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA
Description:D. R. Haney will read from his recently-published novel about punk rock, "Banned for Life," along with other guests, including singer-songwriter Tif Sigfrids, who'll charm and disarm with dainty song.

Free book direct from the author

I just heard about Stephen Elliott's lending library experiment over at The Nervous Breakdown. He's sending out free copies of his book, The Adderall Diaries, to readers, so long as they commit to send the book on to the next reader on the list once they've finished reading their copy. Sounds like a great idea to me. It's even available to people outside of the U.S. as long as you're willing to pay the postage. For more information, you can check out his website or read about the book and read an interview with the author here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pop Box Contest!

Lance Reynald, author of Pop Salvation, is putting on a contest in which you can win a box filled with books and goodies related to pop culture. All you have to do is get your photo taken in one of those old school photo booths, scan the photo strip into the computer and email it along with a short description of where you were and what you were doing when the photos were taken. Examples can be found here. More information about the contest can be found here. And, to see what's going into the box, follow Lance Reynald on Twitter.

Contest ends August 1, so get to it!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Just Arrived: Sic by Brin Friesen

So, I just finished reading Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, but I decided not to review it because I figure pretty much everyone on the planet (except me, until now) has already read it and/or seen the movie, yes? I really liked the book though and finished it in only two days despite its length (almost 700 pages!). I'm looking forward to seeing the movie, even though I know it won't be nearly as good as the book (they never are!). Plus, Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon just doesn't do it for me, but whatever. I'm not a casting director, am I?

Instead, I wanted to introduce you all to my next book, which is Sic by Brin Friesen. I wasn't able to find the book on Amazon, but you can get information about ordering it here. The book is a debut novel published by and/or press in 2006. As with many of my recent books, I first heard about this one on The Nervous Breakdown, when Friesen put up a post giving the background of the novel, which is "about the the young boy, Jasper Finch, and his vicious junior high school years." Friesen's post gives a more detailed account of what the book is about, saying the book is based on a particularly horrible day he had in junior high where he was jumped by several boys. However, the lead up to that awful day is a story of love and longing, which only came full-circle for the author once he was an adult. Having read several of Friesen's posts on The Nervous Breakdown, I'm really looking forward to digging into his book.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

In California, Steinbeck is required reading throughout high school so most people my age have already read his greatest works, but somehow I was never assigned East of Eden in my high school years. I have to say that I'm grateful I wasn't assigned it then because I don't think I would have appreciated the beauty of this book. The first Steinbeck book I ever read was Of Mice and Men in the 9th grade and it almost turned me off of reading Steinbeck altogether. Had it not been for me picking up The Grapes of Wrath on a whim a few years back I probably would have written him off completely. But I fell in love with John Steinbeck when I read The Grapes of Wrath and last week when I finished East of Eden, I fell in love with him all over again.

As with many of Steinbeck's books, East of Eden takes place in California's Central Valley, with the second half of the book taking place almost entirely in Salinas. The book follows three generations of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons. The Hamiltons are Steinbeck's own ancestors and he even makes a couple of appearances in the book which I thought was interesting. However, for the most part the book focuses on Adam Trask, who begins his life in Connecticut, joins the military when the U.S. was exterminating Native Americans and eventually moves West to start a family with his beautiful wife who has a hidden sinister side.

Throughout the book, Steinbeck explores the human ability to choose to be good or evil. The story of Cain and Abel is a recurring theme throughout the book and really got me to think about the nature versus nurture argument. There is a cast of colorful characters throughout the book and, as always, whether he's describing something beautiful or something awful, Steinbeck creates a vivid picture for the reader. Steinbeck is said to have thought of East of Eden as his greatest work, and I have to say that I agree. His natural talent for storytelling really comes across in this book. I know it's a long one (695 pages!) but it's well worth the time.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Author Groupie: Meeting Lance Reynald

I went to San Francisco to see Lance Reynald read from his book, Pop Salvation, on Thursday evening. (That's me with the short hair and big earrings). There were only a few of us in the audience, which made it cool because we were all able to ask questions from the author and had more time to talk to him than if there had been a hundred people waiting to get a signature. I was a little bit starstruck though. I got all nervous and fidgety for some reason. This seems to happen to me whenever I meet authors I've talked to online. I don't know why. Does this happen to any of you?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Check it out

Hey there, I just wanted to direct you to a fab interview with Lance Reynald, author of Pop Salvation, which I reviewed here. He was interviewed at LitPark today, so hop on over and take a look.

Also, just a reminder that Lance Reynald will be doing a reading tomorrow evening at Books, Inc. in the Castro (San Francisco). Details:

Thursday, July 09, 2009
Location: Books Inc. in the Castro, 2275 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94114
Phone: 415-864-6777

Monday, July 6, 2009

Giveaway (aka FREE stuff!)

I know how much I love free stuff and I'm pretty sure the rest of you love free stuff too, yes? SO, I wanted to let you know that there's a big giveaway going on here to celebrate the release (July 1) of A Democracy of Ghosts by John Griswald. The contest only goes until July 10, so get on over there and send them your details.

Also, here's some info about A Democracy of Ghosts from Amazon:

A DEMOCRACY OF GHOSTS is the love story of four couples, set against the backdrop of the Herrin Massacre of 1922. This clash of miners and strikebreakers in Bloody Williamson County, in Southern Illinois, resulted in the deaths of 21 men -- 19 of them the "scabs" tortured and murdered by average men, women, and even children in what was once the most radical community in America. John Griswold has drawn from contemporary eyewitnesses and news accounts, an ethnography of the area, histories, and his own grandfather's letters to create the lives of four fictional couples whose ambitions, self-doubts, and social and sexual jealousies contribute to this great American violence that still echoes down through time.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

I've never really understood why people are so into The Godfather movies, until now. I've actually only seen bits and pieces of the movies, but I always found them boring and difficult to understand, but the book is nothing like that. Mario Puzo really created a wondeful tale when he put together this book. I love that the book isn't all linear either. It's almost like vignettes, albeit long vignettes, stringing you along until you have an aha moment and know what's going to happen next.

I really loved the character of Michael Corleone (and who doesn't?). It was interesting to see his transformation take place throughout the book. Santino's character is also much more sympathetic in the book than he was in the movies, although the movie (what I've seen so far) really follows the book very closely.

One thing I really liked about this book was that it wasn't nearly as violent as I had expected. The scenes gruesome scenes are actually pretty much glossed over, mentioned only as a side note in most cases. I think it was done as a way to show that, even though the bloody parts of the mafia are what get the press, murder and revenge aren't what the mob is really all about. Puzo does a great job of explaining the legitimate businesses of the mob, along with explaining their involvement in gambling rings and other more seedy business operations. In addition, he really helps the reader to understand the inner workings of the mob and the society they have created for themselves. I found it a very interesting and informative read and I couldn't put it down.

If you've ever wondered why they say "go to the mattresses," pick up this book. It will all make sense by the time you're through.

Other reviews of this book can be found here:
Books I done read

Friday, July 3, 2009

Pop Salvation by Lance Reynald

I have so many things to say about Pop Salvation that I don't even know where to begin. I guess I'll start by saying how much I loved it. Based on the back cover, I wasn't sure how interesting this book would be, so it really took me aback once I really got into it. The first few pages start off a little bit slow, but within about 15 pages, you can't help but fall in love with little Caleb Watson and then you won't be able to put the book down until it's finished.

Pop Salvation is a book about the self-discovery of Caleb Watson, who moves to a new town at age 11 and is never really accepted by the other children in his school. Throughout the book he struggles to find an identity that fits him, discovering the wonders of art, Andy Warhol and The Rocky Horror Picture Show along the way. The book is set in the early 80's at the height of Warhol's popularity and his work in The Factory. Caleb adopts Warhol's philosophy into his own life and even begins dressing like the famed artist.

But the most exciting parts of the book are the times Caleb spends with his friends, creating their own art and interacting in a world where everyone is accepted. Caleb and his few friends are all part of a group of outcasts who struggle throughout the book to come to terms with their sexual identity, having been labeled as "different" from very early on. I'm assuming the marketers who put together the blurb on the back of the book left out this part of the story in order to draw in a larger audience, as I'm sure there are people who would be put off by a book about teenagers struggling with whether they are gay or straight, but I found this to be the most extraordinary and wonderful part of the book.

The first half of the book reads almost like a love letter from Caleb to his friends, Aaron and Sonia. The tenderness he has for them radiates off the page in a way that makes you want to stop time and let it last forever. At a certain point I knew things were going to take a turn for the worst and I almost put the book down so I wouldn't have to break out of the lovely dreamworld I'd been living in, but, of course, I couldn't stop myself from seeing where author Lance Reynald would lead me. I don't want to give away too much of the book so I'll just say that I found this book to be one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful books I've ever read. You'll definitely cry, so bring some tissues with you when you read it.

For anyone in Portland or Northern California, Lance Reynald will be doing readings next week. From the events' websites:

Monday, July 06, 2009 07:30 PM
Hailed as "marvelously endearing and insightful" by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Lance Reynald's debut novel Pop Salvation (Harper Perennial) spins together pop art and burgeoning sexuality in a fresh story about learning to trust yourself and the people you love.

Thursday, July 09, 2009
Location: Books Inc. in the Castro, 2275 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94114
Phone: 415-864-6777

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Banned For Life LIVE!

I forgot to mention in my review that Banned for Life author, D.R. Haney, will be appearing in Los Angeles later this month, so if you're in town, you should go! Here's the details:

Date: July 25, 2009, 8:00PM
Venue: Stories
Location: 1716 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA
D. R. Haney will read from his recently-published novel about punk rock, "Banned for Life," along with other guests, including singer-songwriter Tif Sigfrids, who'll charm and disarm with dainty song.