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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Book Review! Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

Hello again!
Today I will be reviewing “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” by one of my favorite authors, Gregory Maguire. Maguire is also the author behind the “Wicked” series, which is based on “The Wizard of Oz” series. I realize “Confessions…” isn’t on my reading list, but I found it while cleaning my room & thought it deserved another read, as I have read it before many years ago. Please continue reading for my thoughts on this book!
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Initial Thoughts:
As mentioned above, I think Maguire is a wonderful author, if a bit long winded. He writes paragraphs upon paragraphs, sometimes pages, of descriptive prose. It can be a bit much at times. I’m a long winded writer too though, so I suppose I should be able to relate to him! I like how he takes traditional fairy tale characters and explores different avenues of their story. I’m not a Cinderella fan, although it would probably appear that I am since I have reviewed the “Cinderella 2015” film, and now this book. Despite that, I was looking forward to this story because I knew Maguire was going to write something much more imaginative and complex than what we’ve all seen in the cartoon.

Plot:
“Confessions…” is set in 17th century Holland and essentially tells the story of Cinderella from the perspective of one of her “ugly” stepsisters – as you may well have guessed. If you’re looking for a spin on “Cinderella”, I would say this story isn’t for you. This truly is a version from another perspective focused mostly on telling that person’s story. The reader gets more information on the stepmother and stepsisters such as their history, how they find their way into Cinderella’s family, & their feelings & actions. It takes about 200 pages (out of 368 total) before the reader sees shades of the “traditional” story. The plot is much darker than Disney’s version, although not as dark as it could be, I suppose. There is a twist at the end that I didn’t fully see coming & will avoid spoiling for you so you can experience it yourself.

Characters:
– Clara aka Cinderella, is a much different character than the Disney Princess most people know and love. If you’re a fan of Cinderella films such as “Cinderella 2015” & “Ever After”, I imagine you will like the overall feel of this character & story in general. Although it takes some time for her to get there, Clara is a much more “modern” woman, compared to her Disney counterpart.
– Margarethe aka Lady Tremaine aka The Evil Stepmother doesn’t change too much in this version. However, her cruelty is explored beyond the typical reasoning of, “She was jealous because Cinderella was pretty”. That’s certainly true, but a lot of her cruelty stems from living without love. I take issue with this concept because there are people who suffer from loss everyday & don’t enslave their stepchildren. With that being said, I understand that fairy tales serve as metaphors for everyday life. So the overall point is that life without love can turn people into their worst selves. Margarethe’s jealousy isn’t just based on looks. She’s jealous of the good opportunity that will come Clara’s way because of her looks. In her time, most marriages weren’t based on love, they were based on dowries, bringing families together, & creating a lineage to inherit titles & property. In a time when feelings didn’t hold much value, a pretty face was definitely a selling point when it came to matchmaking. A pretty girl could hope to marry someone of good social standing & income. I’m comfortable saying this is still the case today, but that’s a topic for another post. With this line of thinking, Maguire touches on the economic & social implications of a widow with two daughters & the stepmother’s concern for their future, especially regarding potential marriages. SPOILER! I thought it was extremely clever to SPOILER! have Margarethe go blind towards the end of the novel. Margarethe was never able to see her daughter’s strengths & let greed blind her, so it’s only fitting that she ends up literally unable to see. This could also be a reference to a version of Cinderella where, after finding her happy ending, Cinderella has her stepmother/sister’s blinded by having birds peck out their eyes.

Quotes:
Pg 349: If you’re familiar with other versions of Cinderella, you can spot some references to them on this page. There are other references throughout, but this page had the most concentrated amount.
Pg 366: “Who knows what bumblebees, crows, or she-elephants lurked there…” These were all familiars to Elphaba or key characters in the “Wicked” series. I didn’t catch that reference while reading “Confessions…”. I only noticed it by chance because I read “Wicked” (again) after finishing “Confessions” so it was fresh in my mind while reviewing my notes to write this review.

Overall:
An entertaining story that kept me engaged. I thought the idea that love can make or break you, as evidenced by Margarethe, didn’t really carry over to the other character’s relationships, so I was somewhat disappointed by that. Clara & Iris, one of the stepsisters, don’t really blossom when they find love, so that theme kind of fell flat in my eyes. I enjoyed Maguire’s clever story telling & references to other Fairy Tales, versions of Cinderella, & even his own work.

Rating: B+
I enjoyed reading this story, but will it make it to my list of ultimate favorite books? Hm, not quite. As I mentioned above, I felt that one of the main messages of the story wasn’t fully developed so overall, the story didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. I won’t take away any of the messages to build my life upon, it was just entertaining. Nothing wrong with that at all, of course, I would still recommend this book. This is especially good for those looking for darker versions of their favorite fairy tales or wanting to read about a different character’s perspective.

Have you read “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” or any of Maguire’s other novels? If so, what are your thoughts? Do you agree with my character breakdown of Margarethe, the Evil Stepmother? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!

Book Review! The Duchess by Amanda Foreman

Hi everyone! Today I will be reviewing a novel called “The Duchess” written by Amanda Foreman. This is a pretty hefty book, clocking in at almost 400 pages with about 40 pages of Notes in the back. To keep the length of this post down, I tried to keep the re-telling of the story to a minimum and spoilers at bay. This is basically exactly what my notes were as I read. Without further ado…

Initial Thoughts:
Foreman wrote this biography based on her doctoral thesis & is supposedly the only person to have ever turned their thesis into a best selling biography.  I thought this was commendable as I’m considering going to Grad school, but the idea of having to write a thesis is very overwhelming. I admire Foreman’s dedication to her education and her passion for the topic. I wanted to read this to get an idea of what a thesis looks like and I wanted to find out more about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. I had seen advertisements for the film, “The Duchess”, many years ago when it was released and thought the plot seemed intriguing, but wanted to read the book first.

Plot:
“The Duchess” is the biography of Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, circa 1774. She was the great-great-great-great-aunt of Princess Diana of Wales and was just as big a celebrity. The biography, obviously, tells the story of Georgiana’s life and the dichotomy of her public and personal life. From the outside looking in, Georgiana had it all, money, fame, and popularity. Inside, she was a deeply unhappy woman, plagued by years of insecurity and people pleasing that led her down a dark road of addiction and misfortune. It’s pretty interesting how popular and involved in shaping history she was, yet I’ve never learned about her. Foreman addresses some reasons that shed light on how history has been RE-WRITTEN by our ancestors and we’re not always getting the full story about how things happened. I guess this bio is good for conspiracy theory fans too, haha!

Characters:
– Georgiana Spencer Cavendish is obviously the main character. We share a birthday, June 7th, woo hoo! separated by a few hundred years. When her father died he left behind a fortune that today would equal $74 million, so she was certainly well off and used that money to educate herself in several avenues. Georgiana was like 1700’s Barbie, she did everything. Not only was she involved in politics, fashion, etc, she was a published author, and also “…an amateur chemist & mineralogist of note…” (p 269), among other accomplishments. She openly participated in political campaigning even though it brought her much negative attention. For every person that admired her involvement, there was someone else smearing her name. Despite her wealth, education, and popularity, you have to feel bad for this woman’s personal life. Her husband had a child by a mistress before he & Georgiana were even married. Their marriage was a train wreck, they both cheated, had children with other partners, and came very close to divorcing which was practically unheard of then.
– The Spencer, Cavendish, and other popular families of the time remind me of the Kardashian family. Super wealthy, spoiled, the center of attention and scandal, involved in each other’s business – & that’s just the way they wanted it.

Quotes:
– A passage on page 153 shows how attacks on women haven’t changed much in hundreds of years. It lists specific reasons Georgiana was so heavily criticized by certain members of the public for her political involvement. She was criticized for bringing “her own personality to the campaign in an era when the only women who had public personas were actresses & courtesans…”. There were also double standards between her and male campaigners. For a male to associate with the common people and treat voters as equals earned him the title of “Man of the People”. When Georgiana did the same & earned the title, a “Woman of the People”, it meant she was a whore.
– In a way, the reader never really gets to know Georgiana because everything she did was scrutinized & she had to act a certain way. For example, in a one letter, she writes about how the last few months were the best of her life, then at the end of the letter she complains that she’s never been sadder (p 273). Her emotions ranged so wildly, it was hard to tell how she genuinely felt or if she was just acting.
– P 382 gives a very inspiring and flattering description of Georgiana, listing all her accomplishments and contributions to society. She should be proud to be remembered that way & you can clearly see why Foreman was so passionate about her.

Overall:
– This biography is not for everyone. It’s certainly not light reading for most. I found it hard to keep track of the family trees, relationships, and the timeline of Georgiana’s life. There are huge sections of history information, and while I understand its inclusion, it’s not what I wanted to read about. I wanted to get to the juicy stuff about Georgiana!
– Another aspect of the book I found hard to follow were the footnotes. The print was super small and you had to find the correct footnote that corresponded with the number in the main text – it was a lot of back and forth reading of small print. Why not just include the footnote in the main text? I figured that’s the way a thesis is set up, but I’m not sure.
– While the historical content did become overwhelming, I did enjoy learning about the way women’s rights and family dynamics have changed, or not, since Georgiana’s time.

Rating: B-
Honestly, this book didn’t do much for me because I was more interested in the woman, not the time period and you get “too much” of the latter. I can’t fault Foreman for that, she did an amazing job doing her research, I just wasn’t terribly interested. As I mentioned above, this biography is best suited for someone that has a genuine interest in the time period and political happenings within it, not solely interested in Georgiana’s life. I gave it a low B because I admire Foreman’s work, but I couldn’t get past the abundance of historical material rather than focus on Georgiana’s personal life, so the story didn’t really grab me. I feel like I would be more interested in the film version of the bio which of course will be highly sensationalized to grab viewer’s attention.

Have you read “The Duchess”? Have you ever heard of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire? Please share your thoughts on this review or the biography in the comments down below! As always, I welcome any and all book suggestions you might have – until next time, hit that FOLLOW button on the top right to stay updated with all my posts!