Sunday Book Club! Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

Hey everyone!
Today’s Sunday Book Club Review is “Damned” by Chuck Palahniuk.

Initial Thoughts:
I was excited to read this book because I’d heard really good things about Palahniuk’s writing – he’s the author of the book, which later became the wildly popular film, “Fight Club”. However, his writing is known to be extremely honest & descriptive in terms of violence, sex, death, substance abuse, etc, topics I usually don’t enjoy reading about. I was introduced to “Damned” as sort of a beginner’s guide to Palahniuk as it’s more “reader friendly”, just a simple dark comedy. Danny is also interested in reading this book, had purchased it, & kindly lent it to me for this review 🙂 *Insert shameless plug* Subscribe to the Savage Squad YouTube channel!

Plot:
“Damned” is the story of 13 year old Madison Spencer’s journey though the afterlife. Well, part of her journey. Semi-Spoiler, the book ends with a “To Be Continued” cliffhanger, so the reader doesn’t get total closure on the story. Madison comes from an extremely wealthy family with multiple mansions in countries around the world & goes to a Swiss boarding school, all the makings of a stuck up, spoiled brat. However, she’s more of an introvert, preferring the company of books to her peers, making her a target for childish teasing & gossip. After her death, Madison finds herself in Hell & slowly makes friends with a “Breakfast Club” inspired group of prisoners. They have many adventures but eventually Madison wants to know WHY she ended up in Hell & begins a journey to confront Satan & get some answers. Along the way she encounters all the dangers of Hell, some interesting historical figures, & ends up finding her inner strength.

Characters:
-Madison: As always, my fear when reading a story about a teenage protagonist is that I will hate them, simply because I have no patience for children. Some stories like Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple & Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer have excellent young protagonists that I enjoyed reading about & identified with. To Palahniuk’s credit, it’s because of the high quality of his writing that I hated Madison. He delivered an incredibly on point description of the mind set of an average insecure 13 year old girl. Oh my gosh, she’s the worst. She’s your typical “poor little rich girl”, really annoying, & thinks she knows everything. It sounds strange, but Palaniuk did too good of a job creating her. She’s so realistic I felt like I was interacting with a teenager, which is something I generally never want to do.

Quotes:
– Pg 6: “No it’s not fair, but what makes earth feel like Hell is our expectation that it should feel like Heaven. Earth is earth.”
DAMN. Is that a pun in this context? Anyway, wow, this really spoke to me & made me think about my perspective on life. I think this is true, we expect to be showered with gifts (love, friendship, money, intelligence, etc) & then we become bitter & angry when those things aren’t given to us. Earth is earth, it’s what we make it. Heaven & Hell come after – if that’s what you believe in.

Overall/Rating: C+
“Damned” is probably the most…unique coming of age story I’ve ever read. Palaniuk has an amazing way with words. His descriptions are detailed & make you feel like you’re really in the moment, which in a book about Hell, was often uncomfortable. I think that’s his goal though, to make you think/feel, even if you’re out of your comfort zone. I admire his style of writing, but my original fears were correct & this novel just wasn’t for me. While there were some occasional moments of enlightenment, I didn’t really connect with the story or characters. I most likely will not bother to read the continuation of Madison’s story unless Danny enjoys “Damned”, buys the sequel, & lends it to me.

Have you read or heard of “Damned” or any other Chuck Palahniuk novels? If so, what are your thoughts? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!

The next Sunday Book Club is “Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, & Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon” by Melissa Anelli.

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Sunday Book Club! Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Today’s Sunday Book Club Review is “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Initial Thoughts:
I was a bit hesitant to review this particular book once I saw the date it would be posted, the 15 year anniversary of 9/11. ELIC centers around the aftermath of 9/11 from the fictional perspective of 9 year old Oskar Schell, who lost his father in the WTC attack. I didn’t want this post to come off as attention seeking, I didn’t intentionally choose to review a book about 9/11 on 9/11, but I think there’s something a bit…poetic, in that it just happened to occur this way. One of the themes of this book & a message I’ve been seeing passed around a lot today, is that life must go on. We must continue to find joy, entertainment, & happiness, despite the horrific tragedy of 9/11. With that, I proudly present my review on this amazingly well written & thought provoking story in the hopes that literature like this continues to be created so that we truly never forget this day.

Plot:
Oskar Schell is not your average 9 year old. He doesn’t have much time for kids his own age, preferring to learn French or take photographs on his grandfather’s old camera. Many of these photographs can be seen throughout the book, almost like illustrations, an interesting addition in a Fiction novel. Oskar carries many heavy emotions as he struggles to cope with his father’s death in the World Trade Center on 9/11. One day while looking through his father’s things he finds a key in an envelope labeled “Black” & thus begins a quest to figure out his father’s final mystery. Along the way Oskar connects with many people struggling with the aftermath of  9/11 or their own personal tragedies, learns a lot about his family, & life in general. There is another plot line & narrator, but it’s hard to say too much without spoiling the twist. The other storyline centers around WWII Germany & not only explains some character’s backstories but shows a time where people experienced similar tragedy & terror like 9/11 & how history repeats itself. The use of this other storyline speaks to what I was saying above, the world will always know chaos. It’s up to the survivors to take that tragedy & create something beautiful from it that will make the world a better place.

Characters:
Oskar Schell – I’m always anxious to read novels where the main character is a child because, to be frank, I don’t really enjoy children. However, I felt a kinship with Oskar in that, we both didn’t really connect with kids our own age, preferring relationships with our family or other adult mentors. Oskar is written in a clever but often naive way. There are a few plot lines, such as his mother’s “love life” after his father’s passing, where Oskar definitely shows a more standard child like attitude. However, at the end of the novel, the reader sees how Oskar has grown & his eyes are opened to another perspective he didn’t see clearly before. Again, not your typical child character, which I appreciated & was able to connect with.

Overall/Rating: B+
Without giving too much away, I was a bit disappointed in the ending. Oskar’s journey to find something about his dad really led him on a journey to find himself & some peace, which is ultimately more important. However, as a person who lost their dad at a young age too, I understand Oskar’s frustration at that abstract concept. I can sympathize because I too wondered for many years, why was there not one last “I love you”, “goodbye”, or bit of grown up advice? The truth of that unfortunately, is that there is always one last something, we just never know it’s the last until it’s too late. I highly recommend this story, especially if you’ve ever struggled with grief or loss of any kind. ELIC made me laugh, cry, think – it made me feel! Obviously I wasn’t in NY on 9/11, but from my point of view this novel has its heart in the right place. I honestly believe Foer didn’t write this story for attention or to make money on a hot button topic. This is not a political story, the focus is on the people that lived & died on that day & how the survivors still struggled. It’s a noble effort to take an event that hit so close to home & explore it with a child-like sense of curiosity & naiveté & create something that can speak to a variety of people.

Have you read or heard of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”? What about the film? I’m interested to watch the film based on the book & see how it compares. Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!

The next Sunday Book Club is September 25th & the book is “Damned” by Chuck Palahniuk.

Sunday Book Club! The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

Happy Sunday!
Today’s Sunday Book Club Review is “The Other Typist” by Suzanne Rindell.

Initial Thoughts:
One of the biggest benefits of making my way through my Books to Read List is, I’m starting to get a much better sense of what I really enjoy reading as far as genre, time periods, & types of characters. I was excited to start “TOT” because it seemed to be right up my alley, a mystery centered around a strong female character taking place during 1920’s America. My excitement waned a little as the story moves pretty slowly, but once the drama starts – WOW!

Plot:
“TOT” is about Rose Baker, a reserved, plain, young woman that works as a Typist for the NYPD. Growing up an orphan raised by nuns, Rose never knew much about friendship, luxury, or adventure, but that all changes when another young woman named Odalie starts work at the precinct as, of course, a typist. Odalie is Rose’s exact opposite, she’s alluring, gorgeous, & rich. Eventually the two women form a friendship based on, it seems, Odalie’s desire to help Rose break out of her shell. She invites Rose to move in with her at her posh, expensive hotel penthouse apartment, she dresses her in fabulous clothing & jewelry, & takes her on wild adventures that usually involve finding their way to a speakeasy. Rose is very quickly out of her element & realizes that Odalie’s lifestyle is not the pure, virtuous, law abiding life she had. Unfortunately, she’s in too deep, Odalie has bigger plans for Rose than just helping her break out of her shell & the friendship becomes obsessive & controlling on both sides. I won’t get into the actual mystery because I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are some dark twists & turns that really surprised me, although, if you’re really paying attention, there are scattered clues as to how the story will end.

Characters:
Rose is an extremely complex character. Rindell did an excellent job of revealing details about Rose through small doses. At first you think they’re inconsistencies in the writing, but upon closer examination, you see Rose is changing, losing hold of her convictions & the way she presents herself. At first I felt like she was a relatively modern woman, enjoying her lifestyle, secure & proud of the choices she’d made. I found her attitude relatable & refreshing for a story set in 1920’s Prohibition Era. Later, however, she reveals herself to be terribly insecure & prudish, desperately seeking approval from Odalie & willing to do anything to strengthen their bond. She becomes very stalker-ish & it’s almost amusing to see how she rationalizes her crazy actions.

Overall/Rating: B
“The Other Typist” was a little slow & dry at parts, but for the most part, was a quick & easy read. I don’t want to compare this story to “Gone Girl” because I think that gives away the nature of the big twist. However, the front of the book offers the comparison so it’s not like I’m really spoiling anything. “TOT” is the result of “The Great Gatsby” & “Gone Girl” having a literary baby. When this book was published Rindell was in the dissertation phase of her Ph.D program, concentrating on 20th century American modernism. The influence of her education is clear in a few monologues where Rose contemplates innocence, youth, & the effects WWI had on her generation.If you’re at all a fan of 1920’s America you’ll at least enjoy the imagery & those monologues, even if you’re not a fan of the actual mystery within. In regards to the mystery, I still had unanswered questions which frustrate me because I’m not sure if I’M missing something or if Rindell left it vague on purpose. Please read “The Other Typist” & let me know what you think!

Have you read or heard of “The Other Typist”? If so, what are your thoughts? What’s your favorite genre or time period in history to read about? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!

Sunday Book Club! Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Happy Sunday!
Today’s Sunday Book Club Review is “Turn of Mind” by Alice LaPlante.

Initial Thoughts:
As I usually say each Sunday, I don’t remember why I added this book to my list. This is an especially painful irony given the subject matter of “Turn of Mind”. The fact that the main character has dementia hit close to home for me, but my interest was also piqued because of the overall mystery. Keep reading to see if this is a book you might be interested in as well!

Plot:
“Turn of Mind” is a fictional story that focuses on the life of Dr. Jennifer White, a successful hand surgeon who suffers from dementia. Her husband James has passed away & her children, Mark & Fiona, now have control over various aspects of her life. The story shifts back and forth between past & present as Jennifer struggles with dementia – plus that fact that her best friend Amanda was murdered & she’s the prime suspect! While Jennifer mourns the loss of her friend, when she actually remembers she’s been murdered, she also can’t help but wonder if she DID murder her. While extremely close, the women shared a tumultuous past with many secrets & when her mind is right, Jennifer fears one of those secrets was Amanda’s undoing.

Characters:
– Dr. Jennifer White: Jennifer’s dementia & the way LaPlante formats her story make for a unique relationship with the main character. The reader gets their information through Jennifer’s eyes, so we’re just as in the dark as she is. She can’t remember if she killed Amanda, so you aren’t sure either which leaves you with mixed feelings towards her. You feel sympathy because of how dementia is ravaging her brilliant mind, but on the other hand, if she’s a psychopathic murderer, you want nothing to do with her! Normally in a story like this the main character tries to prove their innocence, but Jennifer isn’t sure she’s innocent, most days she can’t even remember she’s a suspect. All of this adds up to an extremely complex character that provokes a lot of thought & discussion.

Overall/Rating: B+
The depiction of dementia is SPOT ON with what I’ve witnessed from my grandparents. It was so accurate that I wonder if LaPlante knows someone with dementia or if she did a lot of intense research. If it’s the latter, it really paid off! This is great insight to the fragmented mindset of someone with dementia & how they become increasingly confused, frustrated, agitated, & even dangerous. Some may find the disjointed nature of the narrative confusing, but that goes with the territory of the disease, so I felt that was an authentic choice for LaPlante to make for a character with dementia. I rated down a bit because I felt like once the mystery was solved, I wouldn’t want to revisit this story again. I also rated down because the pace was pretty slow, barely moving enough to keep my interest. You don’t get an answer to the big whodunit until literally the last few pages of the book, & I was a little disappointed because I still had some unanswered questions!

Have you read or heard of “Turn of Mind” or Alice LaPlante? If so, what are your thoughts? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!

The next Sunday Book Club is August 28th & the book is “The Other Typist” by Suzanne Rindell.

Sunday Book Club – Postponed! 

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the late notice but this week’s SBC, “Turn Of Mind” by Alice LaPlante, will be postponed until next week! I’ve been on many adventures this weekend that you will see recapped soon & unfortunately don’t have time to put the post up. Many apologies! Lo siento! I’m sorry!

Mom, me, Danny, & Aunt Millie at the West Edge Opera in Oakland

 

Sunday Book Club! Bossypants by Tina Fey

Hello again!
Today’s Sunday Book Club Review is “Bossypants” by Tina Fey.

Initial Thoughts:
For a long time, I had no idea who Tina Fey was because I didn’t watch too much TV. Eventually, even I couldn’t miss the impact she was having on pop culture with her skits on Saturday Night Live, especially her impression of Sarah Palin. Still, I never formed too much of an opinion on her. As I became more interested in working in the Entertainment industry, her name popped up more & more as a Feminist alley. She was different from other female celebrities. She was intelligent, funny, hard working, a writer! She was a woman in power in a male dominated industry! She has remained relatively scandal free which has helped me remain neutral, yet curious to dig deeper, hence my interest in her autobiography, “Bossypants”. Thank you to my friend Marcela for buying me this book for my birthday! Keep reading to see if I’ve been converted to a Tina Fey super fan!

Plot:
“Bossypants” doesn’t necessarily have a plot. The book tells anecdotal stories ranging from Fey’s youth to her time before SNL to her marriage & eventual journey into parenthood, among other topics.

Quotes:
– Pg 53: “I only hope that one day I can frighten my daughter…Right now, she’s not scared of my husband or me at all…How can I give her what [my dad] gave me? The fear of getting in trouble. The knowledge that while you are loved, you are not above the law. The World-wide Parental Anxiety System is failing if this many of us have made sex tapes.”
YES! I have been saying something similar to this since I was a teenager. I would watch my friends get into shenanigans & ask them, “Aren’t you afraid your parents will kill you!?!” The answer was always a laugh & a shrug, or a straight up no. I’ve never experienced that carefree feeling. Even when I do something relatively small but “bad”, I think, “Better not tell Mom I stayed up all night, ate a carton of ice cream, & drank half a bottle of wine!” because I live in fear of her judgement & disappointment. My mom is by no means harsh or strict, she just has high expectations. Perhaps Fey & I experienced this Parental Anxiety System because we have older parents that didn’t feel like they needed to be our friend. Whatever the reason, I was happy to find finally this connection with someone!
– Pg 225: “If Darrell [Hammond] is da Vinci, Will [Ferrell] is Monet, & I am me, in a wig.”
I found Fey to be a bit TOO self deprecating. Of course if she was full of herself, I wouldn’t like that either, so there’s no winning. I just feel bad for her – how silly is that! Seriously though, she fights this battle that females are just as funny as males & does a great job praising her friends, but often talks about how she’s not funny. It’s meant to be tongue in cheek but it was a bit off putting like, why am I reading your book if you don’t even believe in yourself?

Overall: B+
I gave “Bossypants” a B+ because Fey’s stories are well written, funny, & easy for me to connect with. However, I found that without a solid storyline to follow, no drama, no climax, I occasionally lost interest. The most interesting stories centered around Fey’s career before SNL & behind the scenes stories of SNL & 30 Rock. However, I might be biased because that’s where my current interest lies. If I was a new parent, I might find Fey’s tales of parenthood way more entertaining, I guess it just depends on the reader. Definitely a good choice for those interested in the Entertainment industry with a Feminist edge to it & of course, fans of Tina Fey.

Have you read “Bossypants” or another Autobiography of someone in the Entertainment industry? If so, what are your thoughts? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!

The next Sunday Book Club is August 7th & the book is “Turn of Mind” by Alice LaPlante.

Sunday Book Club! The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard

Today’s Sunday Book Club Review is “The Fates Will Find Their Way” by Hannah Pittard.

Initial Thoughts:
Marketed as a cross between “The Virgin Suicides” & “The Lovely Bones”, “Fates…” promises a mystery surrounding a teenage girl & all the boys who loved her. I enjoy mysteries, although I find stories involving young girls almost always include scenes of sexual violence that I find too graphic. I was hoping that Pittard wouldn’t find it necessary to create a plot that centers around rape, although the comparison to “The Lovely Bones” didn’t fill me with great confidence. Also, I don’t generally like stories about teenagers because as a “grown up”, I find it hard to sympathize with teenage rebellion/whiners/young love. However, the intrigue behind the mystery plot was too strong to throw me off of this book so despite the potential negatives I began reading, albeit with trepidation, nervous to see what would unravel…

Plot:
All the boys are obsessed with Nora. She’s a mystery to them, the perfect girl they all long for yet can’t have. Nora becomes an even bigger mystery when she disappears, never to be heard from again. Told from the point of view of the neighborhood boys, the story follows how the people in her hometown handle her disappearance & how rumors of what happened to Nora represent a tale of caution, adventure, & intrigue for years to come.

Characters:
– The neighborhood boys: It was a little bit difficult for me to keep track of all the names & stories, but I think that’s pretty true to life. Imagine a group of boys from your youth or current neighborhood. There are certain kids that just fade to the background or others that you had/have more of a connection with so they stay in your mind – same concept for this group of characters. Also, some of the boys are ultimately more important to the overall storyline so they get more “face time” with the reader but then another kid will pop up & you’re thinking, “Wait, who is he!?”.
– The Narrator: About halfway through the book I realized, I didn’t know who the Narrator was. It’s an interesting storytelling device on Pittard’s part because it kind of keeps the Narrator safe from any scrutiny because you don’t know what his backstory is or what role he plays in certain events. I felt like the Narrator was an anonymous boy, but in the Author’s Notes, Pittard says the narration was moving from boy to boy. For example, George tells a story about Trey & Danny, & later Danny tells a story about George. I almost want to go back & re-read the book focusing on which boy is NOT mentioned & using a process of elimination, figure out which boy is speaking.

Quotes:
– Dedication: “For Malcolm Hugh Ringel, who disappeared from our lives 6/16/06”
This doesn’t have anything to do with the actual story, but started the book on an intriguing note. I assumed this was someone important to the author that passed away or went missing, perhaps the inspiration for the story, & was prepared to do some follow up Google searching of my own, however, the author addresses the mystery in her Notes at the end of the novel. I was pleasantly surprised she did this & was happy to have at least one mystery resolved. I won’t say any more, but the dedication is a very touching tribute.

Overall:
Pittard kept me intrigued & eagerly reading. As I predicted, there is a storyline centering around a rape, but I appreciated that she didn’t describe it in any detail. It has nothing to do with the disappearance of Nora, but provides another layer of complexity to this group of kids & how that horrible event weighs on them as they grow up. I think that’s kind of the main point of this story – the idea that life is a series of wild & crazy events & sometimes we misinterpret their meaning. Events that seem huge at the time reveal themselves to really not matter, or small things really mean a lot & can change everything. The continued mystery of who the Narrator is & some other plot points that I don’t want to spoil is maddening but references the idea that we never really know each other or what goes on behind closed doors. Overall, this story isn’t really a mystery. Nora’s disappearance serves as a backdrop but ultimately the plot doesn’t revolve around solving her case. The main focus is on those left behind & how they move on & grow up.

Rating: B-
I rated “Fates” down a bit because I was disappointed that – SPOILER! – there is no resolution to Nora’s disappearance, but I suppose it gives the story an air of realism as many similar real life cases go unsolved all the time. As mentioned above, it was hard to really get to know the characters & that kind of keeps you disconnected. The mystery was definitely the driving force of the story, that’s what kept me reading, hoping that eventually Nora’s disappearance would become the main focus again. I didn’t really connect to the story in a big emotional way & I was a bit unhappy that it turned out to be a reflection of life rather than a “real” mystery but it was still well written & entertaining.

Have you read this book or another Mystery I might like?  If so, what are your thoughts? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments!

The next Sunday Book Club is July 24th & the book is “Bossypants” by Tina Fey.