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Joyful Girl

Andrea Blythe's blog about writing, reading, and everything else


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Books Completed in March
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blythe025
1. The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub
2. Rosemary's Baby, by Ira Levin
3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carl
4. Cedar Toothpick: The Tomboy Dioramas, poetry by Stefan Lorenzutti and art by Laurent Le Deunff
5. The House of Mirth (audio book), by Edith Wharton
6. my name on his tongue: poems, by Laila Halaby
7. The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door, by Karen Kinneyfrock

REVIEWS:

1. The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub
Jack arrives at the Alhambra hotel in New Hampshire with the knowledge that his mother is sick and probably dying. In the slow season for the tourist town, no one is around and Jack spends his days wandering around empty beaches and an old abandoned amusement park. His only friend is Speedy Parker, an old jazz musician turned custodian, who sends him off on a journey between world in search of a magical talisman that can save his mother's life. The story is epic in scope, jumping between this world and an alternate parallel world, each presenting their own unique horrors, as Jack travels across the U.S.

Though firmly rooted in fantasy, with our young hero going on a quest for a magical object that can defeat evil in the name of a good queen, the novel also presents numerous horror tropes, including lots of blood splatter, popping eyeballs, grotesque creatures, and other moments of gore and the macabre, as well as the occasional gratuitous allusion to sex.

The first chunk of 100 pages or so were slow going for me at first. One, because there's the long build up before Jack finally takes action (he's a kid, so I can forgive him his indecision). And two, because the character Speedy Parker (a.k.a. the "Magical Negro") annoyed me from the get-go, because he's just such a caricature of a person without much (or any) depth beyond giving Jack a boost into his adventure and show up at opportune times to keep him going. King is kind of known for using the "Magical Negro" trope in several of his novels, so I'm not surprised to see it, but still.

Anyway, after those first hundred pages, I was into the story enough that it all began to flow and it carried me easily through the bulk of the story. I simultaneously loved and was annoyed by the character Wolf, as I was with the character Richard. The villains are all ugly and villainous, with not much dimension to them beyond their desire for power and their delight in cruelty. The good guys are very good and the bad guys are very, very bad and there is no in between.

Jack is the only one that was fully and complete character. You get to see him grow from a very young boy into an early adulthood by the end of the book. He has moment of darkness and cruelty in him, while all the while striving to be brave and noble and good. He's very, very different by the end of the book than he is at the beginning.

It's interesting that this was cowritten by King and Straub, because it was so cohesive that I couldn't tell who wrote what. However, the moments of sheer gore certainly had King's particular flair and in general this seemed a King sort of book, so much so that I didn't see much of Straub in it (maybe it's because I haven't read enough Straub, but based on what I have read he seems more multidimensional than this).

So, I guess my final analysis is that I really, really enjoyed this book with some rather strong reservations.


2. Rosemary's Baby, by Ira Levin
Rosemary is a happy and healthy young woman, who is ecstatic about moving into the Bramford with her husband. It's building with character, and in her mind, the perfect place to have their first child. Then strange things begin to happen.

But to say it like that is to over dramatize it, because this book is superbly understated. Every event is presented as mundane and ordinary. The language itself is crisp and clean and understated; there is no overdramatizing for the sake of hyping the horror. Instead every strange occurrence is slipped subtly in with the everyday aspects of preparing a new home and dealing with the strangeness of pregnancy. Violence and death crops up, but even these happen in a "these things happen" kind of way and can be written off as coincidence.

It would be easy as the reader to wonder why Rosemary didn't pick up on the clues sooner, but as the reader, we have foreknowledge that she wouldn't. In experience truth the clues can be good easily written off as just one's imagination. And if I'm honest with myself, I would have to admit that I would be no more conscious of what was really going on than Rosemary. (In fact, I might not have get caught on at all.)

I haven't seen the movie, but I've seen clips and knew what was going to happen at the end from discussions while reading (also, I had Mia Farrow firmly planted in my head). Knowing in advance the end did not ruin my enjoyment I the slightest. I was captivated from the start, didn't want to put it down halfway in, and by the end I was so absorbed I became resentful of working and eating and having to commute home. In fact, I couldn't even handle walking from the car into the house; I just sat in the driver's seat reading until the last 40 pages were done. Then I walked in the house with a huge smile on my face and haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. I can't even bring myself to start another book yet, because I just want to read this one over again.


3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carl
My review: The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a classic in picture books for good reason. The story of a newly hatched caterpillar going about gobbling up whatever it can is told with bright and colorful pictures and creatively formatted pages. It includes moments of humor and basic counting in the story for bit of learning.

I haven't touched this book since I was in elementary school, but I genuinely enjoyed reading it to my niece and was even surprised by just how wonderful it is.

My niece's review: She alternated from staring at the pages in fascination to throwing her hands up in the air and squealing with glee every time I turned the page. I think she liked it. :)


4. Cedar Toothpick: The Tomboy Dioramas, poetry by Stefan Lorenzutti and art by Laurent Le Deunff
Discussed elsewhere.


5. The House of Mirth (audio book), by Edith Wharton
Discussed elsewhere.


6. my name on his tongue: poems, by Laila Halaby
Halaby draws on her experiences as an Arab American to explore the duality of her experience and her general sense of homelessness. The poems read like passages from a memoir, illustrating her relation to two cultures, neither of which seem to fit properly. Her personal life mixes with her reactions to world events, such as the Iraq war or the bombing of Palestine.

You can tell that Halaby was a fiction writer first, because her poems tend toward narrative. However, this is not simply prose broken up into lines. The lines of her poetry goes from long lines to short, choppy lines, which emphasis words and phrases to effectively evoke the disjointed emotions presented. On the whole this is a beautiful and intellectual book of poetry.


7. The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door, by Karen Finneyfrock
I'm planning to do a video review of this, but haven't gotten around to it yet, so in the meantime, here's the short version.

When Celia Door enters her freshman year of high school, she does so with the sole aim of enacting revenge on Sandy Firestone. But when she unexpectedly makes a friend in cool-kid Drake, she may have to reassess her priorities.

There's a lot of teen angst in this book, but it's very well done, and I resonated with the feeling of loneliness and hurt of being a bullied teenager. Also, Celia is a poet and her poetry within the book is wonderful, something to be expected since Finnefrock herself is a fantastic poet.

It was a very enjoyable story, full of snarky and wounded and wonderful teenagers. I recommend it with the caveat that he teen angst might not be for everyone, particularly adults looking for a more mature YA read.
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