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! The Reflections of Queen Snow White by David Meredith

Today’s Sunday Book Club Review is “The Reflections of Queen Snow White” by David Meredith. The exciting announcement I mentioned last Sunday is that I was asked by the author to read & review this book! Yay – my first Sunday Book Club Collaboration! Disclaimer: I did receive this book for free, but that in no way influences my Review.

Initial Thoughts:
When David first emailed me & offered me the chance to review his book, I was surprised, extremely flattered, & excited. I love this Genre of Fairy Tale retellings or examination from a modern authors point of view, as you’ve probably noticed with my past Book Reviews such as Beastly, Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale, The Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, & others coming up on my Books to Read List. I’ve never read an E-Book, which is the only way this novel is currently available, so I was a little nervous about how I’d feel using “new technology”, haha! I was also nervous because of the collaborative spirit of this Sunday Book Club. It’s tough to be fair when you know the author will most likely read your Review, but I believe I was unbiased. Keep reading & let me know in the Comments if you feel I was being too easy, fair, or too harsh!

Plot:
As the title implies, this story is of course, about Snow White. Meredith continues forward from the tale we know & starts his story with an older Snow White who is not the cheerful, upbeat Disney princess many know & love. She is now bitter, sad, & lonely because Prince Charming has passed away. Snow’s depression & grief have caused a rift in her relationship with her daughter Raven to the point that she is not even involved in the planning of her upcoming wedding. One day while wandering the castle in a state of despondency, Snow stumbles upon the Evil Queen’s old chambers. She finds the Magic Mirror has been stored there & embarks on a magical journey into her past to try & find some peace in this new chapter of her life. I will leave it at that to prevent any Spoilers.

Characters:
– Erfruet – It took way too long for me to piece together that Snow’s “right hand man” is one of THE dwarves. You know….one of the seven! I thought this character was used as a clever & cute way to pay homage to the original story & show how the Dwarves’ relationship with Snow continued after her marriage, connecting the old & new story.
– It seemed like all of the characters had some type of accent & foreign name, except Snow White & Prince Charming. I thought perhaps this was an homage to the Grimm Brother’s & their German heritage, but the accents didn’t seem German so I’m not certain.

Quotes:
– Acknowledgements: “To anyone who has ever known loss, wrestled with grief, & struggled to find themselves again”
This is really what the story is about & I admire Meredith for taking on such a difficult topic & trying to make it more relatable by involving a beloved Fairy Tale character. It’s an interesting topic for this Genre, one that’s not too often explored because most readers don’t want to think about the reality that comes after “happily ever after”. I will touch more on this idea below in the “Overall” section.
– Magic Mirror: “What happens, happens. The past is the past and your past is ever a part of you! Only by facing it can you truly leave it behind. Otherwise, it will ever intrude upon your present”…She felt as if she stood alone on the edge of a precipitous gorge, filled with despair at the impossibility of her predicament, but knowing that her only choice was to descend into its shadowy depths, cross the unseen rocky path at its bottom, and pull herself out once more on the other side.”
The beginning of this passage is really so true, not just about grief, but anything that plagues us from the past. The second half of the Quote seemed like a subtle, or perhaps not so subtle, metaphor for the process of grieving.

Overall:
I could definitely see this becoming a film. While I enjoy Fantasy stories, I sometimes take issue with how unnecessarily lengthy they can be. I know I’ve complained on here a few times about endless pages of scenery. I enjoyed Meredith’s extremely descriptive but mostly concise style of writing. However, it’s worth mentioning that there are scenes of abuse & sexual content that made me rather uncomfortable. Meredith has a knack for creating an intriguing story & providing resolution. There were several times I found myself wondering about a “plot hole”, but later receiving a full explanation. Overall I enjoyed the theme of the story & the unique idea of this stereotypical happy go lucky Princess dealing with grief. I think Meredith was trying to touch on an important point about loss & love. He presents the reader with the idea that throughout our lives we have way more than one chapter, way more than one “happily ever after”. Just because one type of love has left our lives doesn’t mean all love is gone & there’s nothing to live for, it just means our idea of happily ever after has to change. SPOILER! I also appreciated the Feminist angle of the story. The Magic Mirror is trying to make Snow see that although Charming helped her, she played a huge role in her own destiny. She saved herself, but gave the Prince all the credit & after his passing, felt she was lost without him because she did not see her own value.

Rating: B-
Unfortunately, my rating was influenced a bit by the production value. Any book I catch typos in automatically gets knocked down a peg. While I did enjoy the overall theme & message of the book & find them to be important topics to tackle, I can’t support the sex scenes & some of the discussions the characters have about sex/body fluids. I can very well see the interactions taking place, especially in that time period, but that doesn’t mean I want to read about them. That’s the beauty of reading, I’m supposed to be able to use my imagination, haha! Some of those scenes were too descriptive for me & I would imagine other readers may feel the same. While those scenes were not too frequent, they did weigh heavily enough on me that it was almost a distraction from the book as a whole. I would say it’s 50/50 – Great topic/message but some really uncomfortable character interaction!

What do you think? Will you be heading to Amazon to download your own copy of “Reflections”? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below! Big thank you to David Meredith for asking me to do this Review – I congratulate you on all of your well deserved success.
If you’re an author or PR team looking for Reviews, please reach out to me – MissAl.Leigh@gmail.com

The next Sunday Book Club is July 10th & the book is “The Fates Will Find Their Way” by Hannah Pittard. Stay tuned & thanks for reading!

You Should Be Here

If you’ve been keeping track of the Sunday Book Club schedule – wait, what, you’re not!?
It’s easy! Click the FOLLOW button & get emails when I add new posts. Specifically for Sunday Book Club, at the end of the post I will list what book will be reviewed next & when the post will be published.
If you Follow along, you’ll know today was supposed to be the review for “The Little Giant of Aberdeen County” by Tiffany Baker. However, April 3rd is a sad yet important day in my family, & I felt like a Book Review wouldn’t be appropriate, so I moved it to April 17th.
I generally try to keep this blog as professional as possible, but in the spirit of revamping the blog & writing about some new things, I’ve decided to do a little free write on this super personal topic. This isn’t meant to be particularly enlightened or touching, I’m just sharing my thoughts & below is a video with some fun pictures of my family.

April 3rd, 1998 is the day my dad passed away. April 5th is my Grandpa’s birthday, but he passed away April 13th, 2012. Before that, my Yaya (Greek for Grandma) passed away in 2010. I’m not telling you this to make you sad or pity me. These are just the cold hard facts. That’s one of the shitty thing about death. It’s cold & hard & the people it took away from me were anything but – well, in my mind at least.

I was 7 when my dad passed away from cancer. Most of what I know about him are hand me down stories from my family, which I’m blessed to have because there are some people that know nothing about their parents. I’ve been told I’m a LOT like him, which always amuses people & me, to a certain extent, because obviously we didn’t have a lot of time together. It’s not that I’m unhappy to be like my dad, I just wish I understood him a little better. It’s hard to hear stories about someone & never really hear their side of things. Have you heard about Fathers that participate in fake weddings for their young daughters because they know they’re dying & won’t be there for the real thing? Honestly, I find it to be a bit creepy, but I understand the intent. The family is prepping for a huge moment that Dad should be there for. I’ve heard other stories of people recording videos or writing letters to inspire those they leave behind – my dad didn’t do any of that for me. For several years after his passing I searched our house hoping that tucked away in a drawer or hidden in a book, there was something for me – something to explain life from his point of view or offer some kind of grown up advice, but I never found anything.

I eventually made my peace with not finding any sort of wisdom left behind from my dad because I still had my grandparents. Sure, my birthdays had an empty chair that my dad should be at, but after awhile it just became a fact of life that I learned to deal with. Of course there were awkward moments at dance recitals when other girls would ask where my dad was, but most of the time I would have the biggest group of supporters at any event because my whole family would show up. I’ve never considered until this moment if they all came to genuinely show support or if my grandparents coerced them into coming in some way to help ease the sting I may have felt from knowing my dad should be there. Yeah, my dad won’t be there to walk me down the aisle someday, but Grandpa will fulfill that duty, is how I rationalized things to myself. Then my grandparents passed away.

It didn’t happen like “The Notebook”, a couple passing away in each other’s arms at the same moment, but they passed close enough to each other that it made my head spin & my whole life was completely different in what felt like the blink of an eye. How did this happen!? I had planned my whole future around the fact that they were going to be there for all those important moments in my adult life. We would all share a cry that my dad couldn’t be there in person to see the person I’d grown up to be & then we’d hug & laugh because we’re crying at an important event, but that’s just what our family does. Now, there’s 3 empty chairs at my birthday parties, 3 empty chairs at my college graduation, & no one to walk me down the aisle at my future wedding, although I know my mom is vying for the job…but maybe I should find a boyfriend first, haha!

In the relatively short time it’s been since my grandparents have passed away, so much has changed. The more life changes, the more complicated things become, especially in regards to my move to Arizona, the more I find myself saying, “You should be here” about my three guardian angels. The song featured in the video below, “You Should Be Here” by Cole Swindell brings me to tears almost each & every time I hear it because it so perfectly hits the nail on the head of how I’ve been feeling lately. I know my family is watching over me & I’m so thankful to have known them & learned from them while I was able to. All I can do at this point is move forward with the lessons they taught me & try my best to do them proud! I hope you enjoy the video below, these are some of my favorite pictures of my dad & grandparents. I tried to get pictures of JUST us to follow the theme of the post but Mom snuck in there a few times, don’t worry, she’s doing just fine!

To sum them up…
– Dad is the epitome of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”. He taught me that it’s never to late to make a change & start living a life you’re proud of.
– Yaya taught me to do all things with love. She was an extremely passionate woman that lived every day to the fullest. She loved her friends, her family, & her life. As a grown up, I now see a little deeper under her surface, but if I could ever muster even one ounce of the vim & vigor she had for life & making the best of things, it would be a miracle, haha!
– Grandpa taught me to always eat the JELLO. When I was 5, Yaya was teaching me how to make JELLO. Unfortunately I didn’t realize you had to stir the bottom of the bowl to mix all the ingredients so the JELLO set with crusty pieces of mix stuck to the bottom. We all dug in eagerly & immediately dropped our spoons when it began to scratch our throats. I was disappointed in myself, but Grandpa kept eating away happily telling me he preferred JELLO with a texture like that. No joke, FOR YEARS!!!! I believed him. I would say it’s only been since he’s passed away & I’ve reminisced on that story as an adult that I realized, holy crap, he pretended to like it so I didn’t feel bad. So now I know, & honestly this is something I still struggle with, but I try to acknowledge the effort & intention that goes into something rather than the end result.

Nothing told here today is meant to discredit any of the other wonderful family & friends that helped raise me & have supported me throughout my life. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me thus far & look forward to seeing you at my future wedding/baby shower/Grad School Graduation – whatever comes my way! This post was just meant to address some thoughts I’ve currently been struggling with during my time in Arizona & the fact that today is the anniversary of my dad’s passing, with other anniversaries coming up quickly. Death is so different for everyone & there are a million other things I could say about it, but that’s all for now. If you have anything you’d like to add or you enjoyed this post in particular & would like to see more like this, please let me know in the comments below!

Remember, regularly scheduled Book Reviews will resume on Sunday, April 17th! I’m hoping to have another Try This! posted on Thursday – but you’ll have to stay tuned. Please click the FOLLOW button to become an email subscriber & be notified instantly when new Posts go up! Thanks for reading 🙂