Monday, September 28, 2009

Totally Killer by Greg Olear

I finished Totally Killer, Greg Olear's debut novel, just in time for the semester to start here so now I won't be distracted from my school work. It was definitely good company for me on my bus rides to and from school in the past few weeks though, so I'm going to miss it.

Part murder mystery, part conspiracy, this book, which will be released Tomorrow (September 29), tells the story of how Taylor Schmidt came to be deceased at the tender age of 23 (Not a spoiler! We learn this in the first pages of the book). The narrator, Todd Lander, does all he can to take us back to New York in 1991, the fateful year of Taylor's death.

From talking about what life was like before the Internet (There was a time before the Internet?!), to Todd's sad attempt to win Taylor's love by making her a mixed tape, this book will take you back to the early 90's the way Bret Easton Ellis takes you back to the early 80's in Less Than Zero. It's funny because I never really think of anything really defining the 90's, not in the way that pop music, fluorescent clothing, and awesome hair defined the 80's, but Olear has really captured what the decade had to offer. I especially liked the talk of the economic downturn at the time and what the "slacker" culture really meant. It really got me thinking.

As for the story, I really liked Taylor Schmidt's character, if only because I felt like I really could relate to her (at least in the beginning of the book). I thought some of the book was predictable, but the ending threw me off, which I liked. I felt like I was really wrapped up in the conspiracy by the end, the same way Todd would have felt if he were a real person. I love that about conspiracy fiction. The author (or, more often, filmmaker) spends so much time building up this world and getting you to really buy into and then BAM! nothing is what it seems and you begin to question everything you've just read. I thought Olear did a great job of that.

This was a good read set in a time period I don't really think much about, even though it was the time when most of my growing up happened, so it was a refreshing read. It's obvious Olear did a lot of research on the 90's (or he has a unhealthy attachment to those years). I thought the book was fun to read and I loved the title's play on words (even if I did have the saying "Totally killer, dude" stuck in my head for days). Definitely a good one to check out if you're looking for a quick, fun read.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Releases

I just got notified that Sue Monk Kidd has a new book out: Traveling With Pomegranates, A Mother-Daughter Story. I'm bummed that I won't be able to read it until I get back to the states, but I figured some of you out there might be interested. It was released on September 8, so it's in stores now.

Also, fellow The Nervous Breakdown writer, Greg Olear, has a book coming out on October 1. I'll be reviewing the book, Totally Killer, in a few days (just as soon as I finish reading it!). Until then, feel free to check out all of the nice things Amazon has to say about the book.

Oh, and I wanted to mention that I'm sorry if you've had trouble finding my blog as of late. Somehow Istanbul ruined my URL so I've had to switch back to a blogspot address. I'm going through the Interwebs today to try to find all of my links and change the URL. Fun stuff, let me tell you.

Monday, September 14, 2009

'Tis by Frank McCourt

After struggling through the first half of My Life in France by Julia Child, I finally put it down for good and picked up 'Tis by Frank McCourt, which I couldn't resist buying while in Dublin. 'Tis is the continuation of the story begun in Angela's Ashes, taking off right where Angela's Ashes ended - with McCourt landing in America to begin his new adventure in the Land of Opportunity.

While Angela's Ashes focused a great deal on the overwhelming poverty of the McCourt family, 'Tis instead focuses on the differences McCourt notices between Ireland and America. In addition, there are a great many stories about the mistakes he makes in his early days and his constant yearning for Something Better. We see him struggle through many menial jobs, many with humorous stories to accompany them, and eventually he makes it to college and his Something Better - even though he isn't sure it was worth it once he's got it.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book for two reasons. First, McCourt has a great sense of humor about the way things went for him and how things have turned out. His stories will make you cry with laughter at some points because these are all stories that would have made someone say at the time: "You'll laugh about this later. You may not think so now, but you'll laugh."

Secondly, I really bonded with McCourt's character. Here I am, reading this book in my first days in Istanbul, noticing all the differences between my new home and the United States, while reading about how McCourt went through the same thing even though he was moving to a country that supposedly speaks the same language. There are a number of times he comments on the different uses of words between American English and Irish English. But it wasn't only the moving abroad point that got to me. I find myself questioning the purpose of my education and what I'm really going to do with my future, much in the same way that the young McCourt did in this memoir.

McCourt is a true story teller and he'll make you laugh. Also, he fills in some of the background information that you'll need if you haven't read Angela's Ashes, so it's not absolutely necessary to read it before picking up 'Tis (but I highly recommend it!). Definitely a book to be picked up.

Side Note: I saw at the end of the book that Frank McCourt's brother Malachy has his own book, A Monk Swimming, which was co-authored by Frank and deals with Malachy's struggles with alcoholism and his years as a playboy and actor in New York City. I think I'll be picking it up as soon as I can find an English Bookstore here.