Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ground Control to Major Tom: A Review of Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

Title: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Author: Mary Roach
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co. (2010)
Pages: 334
How I Came By This Book: After reading Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, I got interested in reading more of Roach's books. This was the only other one that my library had.
Challenges: GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens when you can't walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a spacewalk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout from space? To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations. As Mary Roach discovers, it's possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth. From the Space Shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA's new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.

Review: I've always been interested by science, specifically astronomy and earth science. Had my math and science scores been better, I may even have considered a career in a scientific field. While that didn't happen, it is still possible for me to explore topics that interest me through books. Which is why I'm infinitely grateful that I've discovered Mary Roach, who writes funny and informative books about science in such a way that even those of us who aren't scientists can understand.

In Packing for Mars, Roach explores the topic of space exploration...without the space. Sure, she tells stories about the first people (and animals) to launch into orbit or go to the moon, but this book is more about the earth-bound science that happens before a mission into space is undertaken. This includes things as out-of-the-ordinary as space vehicles, scientific equipment, and zero-gravity, as well as the more mundane things, such as eating and going to the bathroom. Nothing is off-limits to Roach, who gives as much weight and consideration to the specifics of carnal pursuits in space as she does to how to safely escape from a malfunctioning space craft. And she keeps you laughing the entire time.

I was highly impressed by Stiff, which looked at the various functions which cadavers can serve in the scientific fields, so I was hoping that Packing for Mars would have the same humor and humanity. Roach didn't disappoint. She discusses science, yes, but she also discusses people; not just the astronauts that we all know and love, but the scientists, the volunteers, the average Janes and Joes who all make space exploration possible. She oscillates between irreverence and deep respect, unabashed humor and appropriate seriousness.

What's so much fun about Roach is that she's ready for anything, personally throwing herself into hands-on research--going on parabolic flights to experience zero-gravity, drinking treated urine to see what astronauts might be drinking if they go to Mars, traveling by ATV to a testing site on Devon Island to observe research on vehicles that could be used on the moon. She doesn't sit in an armchair and just regurgitate what she reads in books. She does her own investigations; she hunts down the truth regarding various rumors and myths; she allows herself to become completely immersed in her current topic of study.

She's also a great writer. Roach is capable of informing and entertaining simultaneously. She's never condescending, she's easy to understand, and her books tend to be quick reads because they're never boring. Space toilets become fascinating when she writes about them, especially when accompanied by her often-self-deprecating and always endearing sense of humor. People who are a little put off by the subject matter of Stiff may find that this book is a better fit for them and I recommend reading it if you're interested in Roach's approach to research and writing. She's definitely worth checking out.

One word of warning for people with motion sickness: There is an entire chapter devoted to the study and treatment of motion sickness in astronauts. I'm one of those people who can get motion sick by just watching something spin. Some of the descriptions of the methods used to study motion sickness are in depth and, you guessed it, they made me nauseous. I managed to finish the chapter, mostly because I found it fascinating, but I was a little dizzy for a while afterward. Just thought I'd give you all a head's up in case any of you are like me.

I'm giving Packing for Mars 5 out of 5 Gabriels. It's a great book and, with the end of the Space Shuttle era having arrived, it's an enjoyable take on a relevant and interesting topic.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Film Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two

After having to wait almost a full agonizing week to see this film, I finally went last Wednesday to experience what many are calling "the end of an era." While I can't say that I personally believe that the Harry Potter "era" is ending, I can admit that I was quite emotional throughout the entire film. I knew that this was the last time I would see a Potter film in theaters. I knew that it was, in a sense, the capstone to a journey that I had taken with a young wizard named Harry from the time I was in middle school. So, knowing that I'm a huge Harry Potter fan and knowing, also, that I wasn't a huge fan of the last book in the series, what, exactly, did I think of the film?

To quote Ron Weasley, it was "bloody brilliant." This review could be a blow-by-blow account of the film; it could be a comparison of the book and the film in minute, obnoxious detail. But it won't be. Instead, I want to talk about the things that stood out for me. There are probably hundreds of reviews of Deathly Hallows II on the internet, so if you're looking for something deeper, you've come to the wrong place. Here you will find only the highlights of what was a much more satisfying film than DH Part I.

1) Snape: I won't go digging around on my blog to find all of the times that I've talked about Snape, but those of you who regularly read my posts know that he comes up quite a lot. My favorite character since I first read Sorcerer's Stone, Snape has a special place in my black little heart. Alan Rickman has always been an actor that I highly admire, so the fact that I was always impressed by his portrayal of the surly potions master came as no surprise to me. What did surprise me, however, was how absolutely blown away I was with Rickman's performance in the last Harry Potter film. I wasn't a giant fan of the Snape/Lily storyline, but seeing how the flashback sequence was done in the film may just have changed my mind about it. Rickman is much more capable of portraying emotion and deep, anguished love than J.K. Rowling will ever be. I also want to thank the film's creators for taking out that whole bit where Harry blabs all of Snape's secrets to the whole world while he's fighting Voldemort.

2) Neville Longbottom: More so than Harry, Neville is a character that grew and changed over the course of the novels and the films. He goes from being a shy, scared young boy to being a strong man who is unafraid to stand up for what he believes in. The film did a fantastic job of showing this, especially when it came to the speech that Neville gives after Voldemort brings Harry's body back to the castle. Neville stands out in that scene as a sort of William Wallace. It's the kind of speech that would get a slow-clap-that-turns-into-thunderous-applause if this were a 90s teen movie. The only thing that really bothered me was the way in which Neville killing Nagini played out. It was supposed to be more dramatic because all of these people are trying and failing and because Ron and Hermione were being chased by the snake. It was supposed to put the audience on the edge of their seats going, "Oh my God, I wonder what's going to happen." Considering that most of the audience presumably knew what was going to happen, it just sort of dragged. At one point I started thinking, "Oh, no, don't tell me that they're not going to let Neville kill the snake." The only sigh of relief I breathed when he finally did was caused by knowing that now I wouldn't have to spend an entire blog post ranting about how Neville had been robbed of his spotlight.

3) Bellatrix Lestrange: While not usually a character that I really liked (or an actress, for that matter), I loved Helena Bonham Carter's scene with Ron and Harry at Gringott's. The absolute uncertainty that was written on her face, coupled with the tripping over her own shoes, made for a much better Polyjuice Potion scene than I had anticipated.

4) The humor: It was nice to see the dark tone of the film lightened by some really great comic moments, including the way Tom Felton's Draco tells Harry that his mother's wand "doesn't understand [him]." While some of the humor in the other films felt a little forced or flat, DH Part II used just the right amount and level of comic relief and the actors delivered the lines in an almost off-hand and very convincing way. It's been said that one of the greatest things about these films was that we as the audience have been able to see the actors grow and become more comfortable in their characters' skins. I think their timing and their delivery has improved ten-fold since the first film, which gave the film a much more authentic feel. These weren't actors; these were characters. I once heard Michael Caine say that he felt that if you were in a theater and you leaned over to your friend and said, "Isn't that Michael Caine a marvelous actor?" that he had failed at his job. You weren't supposed to see Michael Caine; you were supposed to see the person that Michael Caine was portraying. In this film, even more so than the rest, I saw the characters, rather than the actors.

There were, of course, some things about this film that I felt could have been better. Fred's death could have used a bit more screen time (and, I think, even a glimpse of Percy), the epilogue was still awful, and there were a few parts of the movie that I felt could have been shortened. Overwhelmingly, though, it was a spectacular end to the franchise. There are so many more things I could gush about--how kick-ass Minerva is, the fact that Neville and Luna may have gotten romantically involved after the battle, etc.--so I think it's safe to say that this was a great film and a decent adaptation of the book. It was, I think we can all admit, much more loyal to the text than, say, Half-Blood Prince.


Monday, July 18, 2011

In Which I Am Shamefully Behind in Reading

I still have two books to write reviews for (both of which are by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) but I haven't read much of anything this past week. I was trying to get through a book that I've decided to give up on for the time being and am starting C.S. Lewis' Perelandra today. I should have a review of A Study in Scarlet for you guys by Tuesday or Wednesday.

How have things been going for the rest of you? I feel so cut off because I'm only able to get to a computer when I'm at work.


Friday, July 15, 2011

French Film: French Kiss (1995)

Okay, so this film isn't actually French, but it is set in Paris, so I'm counting it as a "French" film. 

Title: French Kiss
Year: 1995
Starring: Meg Ryan, Kevin Kline, Jean Reno
Plot: Kate (Meg Ryan), an American, flies to Paris in order to bring back her fiancé, Charlie (Timothy Hutton), who has fallen in love with the beautiful Juliette (Suzan Anbeh). On the flight from Canada to France, she meets Luc (Kevin Kline), a crook who, without Kate knowing it, stows a stolen necklace inside a plant and sticks it in her bag in order to get it through customs. When she disappears, he has to track her down, only to find that her bag has been stolen by a rival thief. Kate and Luc work together to find the necklace and join forces to try and break up Charlie and Juliette (who has a history with Luc). Along the way they find themselves developing feelings for one another.

Why You Should Watch It: I could explain this in, with only one sentence. You should watch this movie because I actually liked it. Now, I'm not saying that I'm an expert on film; I most certainly am not. What I mean is that this movie falls under two categories of things that I hate: chick flicks and films with Meg Ryan in them. Despite that fact, I found this film to be funny, charming, and all-around enjoyable. Why?

1) Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline have insanely good chemistry. Their journey to falling in love is both believable and fun to watch. They begin the film by despising each other and only grow to like each other after spending time together and seeing who the other person really is. I love films that develop relationships over time, instead of having characters fall (unrealistically) in love twelve seconds after they've met. I especially love it when it's done well. In French Kiss, the plot is paced well and the characters grow within that plot, both separately and as an eventual couple.

2) This film contains well-developed characters. A lot of films seem to disregard the fact that the audience is actually supposed to like the characters and identify with them. Kate, Luc, Charlie, Inspector Cardon (Jean Reno), and the others are not only likeable, they have personalities, back-stories, hopes, and fears. They have flaws and they are changed by the challenges that face them because of these flaws.

3) Kevin Kline and Jean Reno are always fun to watch. While Reno's character isn't a huge part of the main plot, his secondary story (trying to find Luc and the necklace) was threaded nicely throughout the film. Kline is insanely funny as a Frenchman and is probably the best reason to watch the movie. I've always admired his work, especially the comedic films he's done (A Fish Called Wanda is my all-time favorite Kline film), and he doesn't disappoint in French Kiss.

4) The script is great, especially considering this is a romantic comedy. Luc's lines are scene-stealers, but even Meg Ryan has some fantastic moments. My favorite exchange between the two of them has to be when they're discussing the man who stole her bag while speeding down a Parisian street in a car that Luc has stolen:
Luc: His name is Bub.
Kate: Bub?
Luc: Bub. Like, uh, Bub Dylan.
Kate: Oh, Bob!
Luc: (mockingly, in an exaggerated fake American accent) Oui, Baaaaaahhhhhhhb.
It's a short, fun bit that really represents their whole relationship. You have the language and culture barrier, the snappy dialogue, the "I-don't-like-you-but-I'm-stuck-with-you" attitude. I won't go so far as to say that it's the funniest movie I've ever seen, but I give props to the writer, Adam Brooks, for the film's wit and authenticity.

I know there are some of you out there who really like rom-coms and/or Meg Ryan. For you, this movie is probably a no-brainer. For those of you who, like me, don't particularly like either of these things, I still highly recommend it. The script, the characters, the acting: all of it is well-done and makes for a great film.


French Music: "Juste Toi Et Moi" (Indochine)

Chanson (Song): "Juste Toi Et Moi"
Chanteur (Singer): Indochine

Paroles (Lyrics):

Juste toi et moi (X2)

Oh comme des cygnes
Comme toi et moi, comme des étoiles
Nous resterons si pâles
Oh comme les cygnes
Juste toi et moi, un peu trop sales
On n'a rien fait de mal

Et on s'enfuit et on voudrait
Rester en vie tout essayer
Aimer la pluie et les fleurs noires
Rester unis sans trop y croire

Nous sommes le signe
Que toi et moi, comme le métal
Nous resterons si mal
Nous sommes le signe
Juste toi et moi, notre arsenal

On n'a rien d'anormal
Et on séduit dans l'univers
D'oser les dragons et rester fiers
Plonger nos corps dans les eaux noires

Rêver nos vies sans trop y croire
Mais si demain que l'on s'éloigne
Que tu t'en ailles - trop loin -
Si je ne reviens pas alors jure le moi
Tu me tueras

Juste toi et moi oh oh
Comme des toiles oh oh
Qui se rejoignent oh oh
On se tuera oh oh

Oh comme des cygnes
Comme toi et moi, comme les étoiles
Nous resterons si pâles
Oh comme les cygnes
Juste toi et moi, un peu trop sales
On n'a rien fait de mal

Comme les étoiles
Comme les étoiles
Comme toi et moi
Juste toi et moi


Francophone Friday 2

All this month, I'm participating in Paris in July, which means that I'll be reviewing some French novels, introducing you to French music, and just generally talking about all things French. Of course, this is a book blog first and foremost, so I wanted to make sure that my blog didn't get overwhelmed by French culture at the detriment of everything else. So, I'm implementing Francophone Fridays. It's the one day a week where I can let loose and ramble on and on about France (or in French). This is the day that you'll see links to French music, reviews of French films, information on culture in France, photos of French monuments, etc. The rest of the week will be devoid of anything Francophone. I think this keeps everything nice and tidy and keeps me from becoming an absolute bore.

Here's what I've been doing so far for Paris in July:
Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

"Allo Paris" by Mano Solo
"Diane de Poitiers" by Thomas Fersen

Le Dîner de Cons

Look for more posts later today.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

He Write Funny: A Review of David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day

Title: Me Talk Pretty One Day
Author: David Sedaris
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (2000)
Pages: 272
How I Came by This Book: I took this one out of the library about eight or nine months ago when I was on a Sedaris kick and just now got around to reading it. This is, of course, the danger of having the staff privilege to be able to take books out for a year at a time.
Challenges: GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: Essayist David Sedaris once again leaves his readers gasping for air with his hilarious stories regarding his life. Whether he's talking about his family, past job experiences, or the two years he spent in France with his partner, Hugh, Sedaris lays it all bare in his humorous and thoughtful way.

Review: After the extreme disappointment that was Barrel Fever, I was counting on Me Talk Pretty One Day to restore my faith in David Sedaris. And did it ever. Entirely comprised of essays (thank gods, I don't think I could have taken any more short stories by him), this book is divided into two parts. The first is a series of essays that are about his life and his family, none of which conform to a single theme. The second half of the book, however, is focused on his time spent in France with his boyfriend, Hugh, and is why I get to count this as one of my choices for Paris in July. Both halves are hilariously funny, although, as a language geek, I preferred part deux to part one.

Sedaris' blend of self-deprecating wit, understated social commentary, and seemingly endless arsenal of crazy stories are what make him so much fun to read. His humor is often desert-dry but his essays have a strange brand of warmth which underscores a love for his family and a respect for the absurdity of life. Reading Sedaris is almost like sitting around a fire listening to someone tell stories, someone who has one of the best senses of humor you've ever encountered.

While not my favorite collection of his essays as a whole (that honor goes to When You Are Engulfed in Flames), part deux takes the prize for containing the single funniest essay I think Sedaris has ever written. Entitled "Jesus Shaves," the essay revolves around a French class he took while living in France with his partner, Hugh. The class was comprised of people from all over the globe, one of whom was a Muslim from Morocco. While discussing how to talk about holidays in French, this girl became confused as to what Easter was and, in their broken French, the students in the class who were from Christian backgrounds tried their best to explain. What makes this story fun for me is that I've learned several languages and I know how hard it is to express things when you're not quite sure how to say them with your limited vocabulary. What makes this story fun regardless of whether you've learned a language or not is the way in which the students try to express themselves in French. For example:

-"'It is,' said one, 'a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and...oh, shit.'" (p. 177)
-"'He call his self Jesus and then he die one day on two...morsels of...lumber.'" (p. 177)
-"'He weared of himself the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.'" (p. 177)

The whole exchange is hilarious, as is the ensuing discussion about the American Easter Bunny versus the French Easter Bell:
"No, no," she said. "Here in France the chocolate is brought by a big bell that flies in from Rome."
 I called for a time-out. "But how do the bell know where you live?"
 "Well," she said, "how does a rabbit?"
 It was a decent point, but a least a rabbit has eyes. (p. 178)
Other great stories include "Go Carolina," which is about his first speech therapist; "City of Angels," which recounts the story of an obnoxious tourist in NYC; the titular story "Me Talk Pretty One Day," which is another story about the hardships of learning French; and "Remembering My Childhood on the Continent of Africa," in which Sedaris explains just how much cooler his boyfriend's childhood was than his own and why he sometimes steals stories from him to tell at parties. While the book as a whole is well-written and funny, these stories stick out in my memory more than the others.

I have yet to tire of reading about his life and am anxiously awaiting more from the man who has become my favorite essayist. As I said before, I'm glad that he seems to have given up on short stories, as they really aren't his strong point, but as long as he keeps putting out essays, I'll keep reading them.

I'm giving Me Talk Pretty One Day four and 1/2 out of five Gabriels.While I really enjoyed this book, I thought that Naked and While You Are Engulfed in Flames were both better.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Harry Potter Countdown!

The last installment of the insanely popular Harry Potter movie franchise comes out later this summer and book bloggers from all over are chomping at the bit waiting for it. Kayleigh from Nylon Admiral is spending the next few weeks counting down to the movie in her own way: she's posting about it. Every week she'll post about a different topic on her blog. She's inviting anyone and everyone to join in.

This Week's Topic: Choose Your Own Topic (As Long As It's Epic)

My Topic: A Very Potter Musical and A Very Potter Sequel 

Anyone know who to credit for this image?

So, you're really big theater nerds and really big Harry Potter nerds--what do you do? If you're Team StarKid, a group of students from the University of Michigan, you combine the two into an epic musical and its inevitable sequel. Written, directed, and performed by college students, A Very Potter Musical and A Very Potter Sequel are both funny, zany, and irreverent tributes to J.K. Rowling's insanely popular book series.

I had a few friends who were obsessed with this when it first debuted on YouTube. They kept telling me how funny it was and quoting it ad nauseum, but I'm going to admit that I didn't have any interest in it at first. It took me until this past December to finally watch it and, when I finally did, I became just as obsessed as they had been. I've introduced several people to it, all of whom are shocked by how decent it is and by how much they love it.

Not sure who created this one, either.

A Very Potter Musical takes place during Harry's second year at Hogwarts, but it follows the events of his 1st, 4th, and 7th year in the novels. Confused? So was I, at first. Basically, Harry, Ron, and Hermione return to Hogwarts for their second year to find that Professor Quirrell has been named the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. He has convinced Dumbledore to reinstate a house tournament that resembles the Tri-Wizard tournament from the books, except that four students (one from each house) participate. Harry, Draco, Cho, and Cedric are pitted against one another until the final event, when Cedric and Harry both touch the cup and are transported, thanks to Quirrell, to the graveyard where Voldemort will rise again. The rest of the show most resembles books five and seven, in that Harry has to convince everyone that Voldemort is back and the students have to fight him in the end. An added bonus is that Draco's in love with Hermione, which is the funniest thing ever.

A Very Potter Sequel begins right after the first musical ends but, with the cunning use of a Time-Turner, it transports a group of Death Eaters, led by Lucius Malfoy, back in time to Harry's first year in order to make sure that Harry never defeats the Dark Lord. It incorporates elements of books 1, 3, and 5, as well as a cameo appearance by Rita Skeeter and elements of Snape's love for Lily. Upon arriving at Hogwarts, Harry is confronted by the escape of his god-father, Sirius Black, but is helped along by DADA teacher (and Quidditch coach) Professor Lupin. To make matters worse, Harry has to deal with the dreaded Delores Umbridge, who's taken a liking to the flamboyantly gay Albus Dumbledore. Hilarity and chaos ensue as Umbridge and Malfoy join forces to destroy Harry Potter. But someone named "Little D" is helping keep him alive. Will Harry find a way to help Sirius? Will we learn who "Little D" is? And will Lupin ever find a way to keep his werewolf side in check (and his pants on)?


Obviously, not everyone will enjoy it. There's swearing and blatant disregard for character personalities, among other things. But , for one, found it to be hilarious. The acting's pretty decent, as is the singing, and the songs themselves are catchy (you can download the music for AVPM here, AVPS here, and buy the remainder of the AVPS album on iTunes). The best part of all, however, is how fracking quotable they are. Here's just a taste of the over four-hours-worth of super-mega-awesome-foxy-hot:

A Very Potter Musical:

Voldemort: You'd think that killing people would make them like you. But it doesn't. It just makes them dead.

Cedric: Hufflepuffs are particularly good finders.
Dumbledore: What the hell is a Hufflepuff?

Draco: You can't just go to Pigfarts. It's on Mars. You need a rocket ship. Do you have a rocket ship?

Draco: I want Hermione Granger...and a rocket ship!

Ginny: (to an Asian girl) Konichiwa, Cho Chang. It is good to meet you. I am Gin-ny Weas-ley.
Asian Girl: Bitch, I ain't Cho Chang!
Ron: That's Lavender Brown! *smack* Racist sister.

Draco: Do we have to fight? I'm tired. Can't we just be Death Eaters?

Voldemort: Muggles have their place. Mudbloods have their place. And so do your clothes! Namely, a dresser.

Dumbledore: Ooh, 10 points to Dumbledore.

A Very Potter Sequel

Snape: What happened to the poster of headmaster Zefron?
Umbridge: Oh, I don't like Zach Efron. Taylor Lautner's my man.
Snape: What do you want you horrid bitch?

Ron: Favorite Amy Mann song on three. One two three....

Ron and Harry: Red Vines!
Harry: Favorite color vines other than green?
Ron and Harry: Red Vines!
Ron: Favorite way to say 'red wines' in a German accent?
Ron and Harry: Red Vines!....OH MY GOD!
Ron: Where have you been all my life?
Harry: Living in a cupboard under some stairs.

Snape: It pisses me off. I mean it really fucking pisses me off. I was there for her, y’know? And when she needed someone, I was there, waiting like a tool! “Oh, we’re gonna snog now? Okay. What about now? Well, I’ll wait. I’ll wait forever. Like a tool.” And, just one time... just one time, I wanted to take your mum... ‘s boobies... and put them on my face... and go *motorboat*.

Umbridge: So, you're smarter than the person who wrote this book? You're smarter than...Merlin?

Lupin: There's no way we're losing to Slytherin, Ravenclaw, or...Jigglypuff.

And that's not even getting into the songs, which are incredible, especially for a show completely put together by amateurs. My favorites include "Granger Danger" and "Different As Can Be" from A Very Potter Musical and "Guys Like Potter" and "No Way" from A Very Potter Sequel.

Oh, and if there is a higher power, it will ensure that the cast of the final Harry Potter film sings "Voldemort Is Going Down"...even if it's just in a special feature somewhere.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday!

It's been a while since I've participated in a meme and I have to say that this is the one I've missed the most. Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the girls at The Broke and the Bookish, has been my favorite meme since I started joining in on it a few months ago. Every week, the girls post a prompt and book bloggers are asked to create a list of their top ten choices regarding that prompt.

This week's prompt: Top Ten Authors I'd Die to Meet

1) Neil Gaiman: Yeah, I'm pretty sure that this comes as a surprise to no one. Anyone who visits this blog regularly knows that I talk about him so much that he now has his own tag. I once said that if he were a religion, I would be a bishop. There are very few authors today that I respect even half as much as I do Gaiman and I think he'd be an incredible person to talk to.

2) Deanna Raybourn: Again, no surprises here. Raybourn is the only author who has been capable of getting me to read what could be considered romance novels, although, thankfully, they fall more under the mystery and historical fiction categories than anything else. I've been following her career since she published her first Lady Julia novel and have found her to be a sweet, funny woman who is entirely deserving of all of the praise and awards she receives. Definitely someone I'd like to sit down and have a cup of coffee with.

3) Terry Pratchett: I'm an insanely predictable person, apparently. I already wrote about my reasons for wanting to meet Sir Terry, so I won't go into detail again. He's been an inspiration for me as a writer since I was in high school and I would love to tell him thank you.

4) David Sedaris: My sincerest hope is that Sedaris is just as funny in person as he is on paper. From what I've read about him and his life, I have a feeling that he'd be a fun party guest.

5) Markus Zusak: I've only read one novel by Zusak, The Book Thief, but, having read it, I feel this huge inclination to thank him for such a beautiful and inspiring novel, especially in an age where pretty much anything can be published and become popular (e.g. Snooki's travesty of a book).

6) J.K. Rowling: I know that she's probably on everyone's list, but all I'd really want to do if I met her is ask her how she could take such a deep, multi-faceted character like Snape and, in one crushing blow, turn him into a whiny emo. Jo, you got some s'plaining to do.

7) Derek Landy: My followers know that I'm obsessed with Skulduggery Pleasant, so this, again, is not a shock. Landy seems like he'd be a really fun guy to hang out with and I'd love to pick his brain about writing.

8) Stephanie Meyer: This one would be surprising to my followers if it weren't for the fact that I just want to smack her. I wouldn't even say anything. It would be like those movies where some guy walks up to someone and takes his glove out, smacks them, and walks away.

That's all I can think of. I was keeping myself to living authors because, frankly, we'd be here all day if I hadn't.


"The Essential Is Invisible to the Eyes:" A Review of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince

Title: Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince)
Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company (1970)
Pages: 111
How I Came by This Book: I've seen the film The Little Prince (with Steve Warner, Richard Kiley, Gene Wilder, and Bob Fosse) and I went to several readings of it in French in college, but I had never actually read the book myself. Paris in July gave me the perfect excuse to read it and I managed to find, miracle of miracles, an edition at my library that had a glossary in the back. C'est parfait!
Challenges: GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: A pilot crashes his plane into the desert and, while attempting to fix the damage, he meets a young boy who claims to be from another planet. The boy tells the pilot about all of the people he met on the way from his corner of the universe to Earth, forming a bond between the two. A simple, sweet story, Le Petit Prince is as heartwarming, funny, and unforgettable as it is sad.

Review: I was terrified to read this novel. Not because I didn't think I would enjoy it. I knew I would, having been exposed to it on multiple occasions. No, my fear sprang from the fact that this was the first book I would ever read entirely in a foreign language, a language that I know well enough but about which I have little confidence. I'm happy to report that I had no trouble at all reading it, especially with the added help of the aforementioned glossary that accompanied it. Regardless of what language you read it in, however, Le Petit Prince is one you'll want to revisit again and again.

The story is relatively simple. There's an unnamed pilot in the desert who meets an unnamed boy from another planet. The boy tells the pilot about where he came from, why he left, and what has happened to him since. Reading it in French, the verb tenses can be a little confusing, as much of the story is told in the past, but as long as you keep that in mind, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out what's being said. Those reading it in English, will obviously not have the same problem. The bits that are told in the present tense are about the boy and the pilot and the friendship that develops between them in the short time they spend together in the desert, a friendship that is touching and sad at the same time.

Saint-Exupéry's novel is an absolute joy to read. The humor that is present throughout the book is established in the first few pages when our narrator, the pilot, recounts his childhood dream of being an artist and the crushing blow he received from les grands personnes, or "the grown-ups." He draws a picture of an elephant inside of a boa constrictor and asks them if they think it's scary. They say:

<<Pourquoi un chapeau ferait-il peur?>> "Why would a hat be scary?"

Dessin Numéro 1 (Drawing #1)

The narrator, disheartened, asserts:

<<Mon dessin ne représentait pas un chapeau. Il représentait un serpent boa qui digérait un éléphant.>> "My drawing didn't represent a hat. It represented a boa constrictor digesting an elephant."

After his second drawing (which depicts the inside of the snake as well as the outside) fails to impress the grown-ups, he makes a very important decision:

<<C'est ainsi que j'ai abandonné, à l'âge de six ans, une magnifique carrière de peintre.>> "It was thus that I abandoned, at the age of six, a magnificent career in painting."

Dessin numéro 2 (Drawing #2)

This cheeky humor continues throughout the novel and is what drives the narrative. Both the pilot and the little prince share a healthy disdain for grown-ups and a pouty, sarcastic wit that is as endearing as it is funny.

The prince's journey from Asteroid B-612 to Earth takes up most of the short book's narrative. After an argument with a flower he has grown to care for and vowed to protect, the little prince leaves to find a new friend and travels to seven different planets where he meets a small cast of absurd grown-ups, all of whom disappoint him. There's the king who rules over no one; the conceited man who believes that the little prince should laud him; the drunk man who drinks to forget the shame he feels about drinking; the business man who thinks he owns the stars; the lamp-lighter who spends all day lighting and snuffing out his lamp; and the geographer who has never seen the geography on his planet. When the prince finally comes to Earth, he has about given up hope of finding another soul in the universe that he can connect with.

There are many things that he learns along the way, among them that roses aren't unique, people can disappoint you, no one really knows what they're searching for, and snakes are not to be trusted. The reader, too, learns lessons, the most important of which is that sometimes a friend can be found in the strangest of places. The boy and the pilot are both alone in the world and both have something they'd like to get back to--the pilot wants to return to civilization, the boy to his rose. How they achieve their separate goals is both uplifting and heartbreaking.

For those of you who haven't read the novel or who don't know the story, I don't want to give too much away. I will say that the end, for me, wasn't quite as tear-jerking as it was when I saw the film because I spent quite a bit of time looking in the glossary for words I didn't know and the switching back and forth sort of broke up the flow of what is a truly beautiful and tragic scene. There were huge chunks of text that I understood perfectly well, but there were others where I needed a bit of extra help. Having the vocabulary at my fingertips was immensely helpful and I only wish that the other book I'm going to be reading in French this month, Bonjour Tristesse, had a similar glossary included in it as well.

There is so much to love about this novel and I highly recommend reading it. Although it is, primarily, a book for children, les grands personnes can enjoy it as well. From its humor to its satirical nature to the powerful message it sends about friendship, Le Petit Prince is a must-read. I encourage anyone who has taken French and wants to attempt to read it in its original language to do so, especially if you can track down the Hougton Mifflin Educational Edition that I was lucky enough to find. Anyone who hasn't can find just as much enjoyment out of it in a translation. There is also the film that I mentioned earlier, which is rather good, although Bob Fosse's creepy portrayal of the snake often inched too close to pedophilia for comfort (though you do discover Michael Jackson's inspiration for the moonwalk...not that that makes it any less creepy).

I adored everything about this book and am giving it 5 out of 5 Gabriels.

Favorite Quote:
Voici mon secret. Il est très simple : on ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. (pg. 64)
Here's my secret. It's very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see well. The essential is invisible to the eyes.

Monday, July 11, 2011

When Film Gets It (Sort Of) Right: A Review of Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange

Title: A Clockwork Orange
Year: 1971
Starring: Malcolm McDowell
Plot: Based on Anthony Burgess' novel of the same name, A Clockwork Orange is the story of violent delinquent Alex and his three droogs. It's also the story of a corrupt government and the harmful ways in which it tries to combat crime. But mostly it's the story of a boy's transformation from criminal to reformed criminal and back again.
Challenges: Books to Movies Challenge

Review: Those of us who are fans of the novel will obviously find fault with some of the things that Kubrick chose to do in this film. The most obvious, of course, is the exclusion of the final chapter of the novel from the film entirely. While this could be excused by the fact that the American edition of the novel was missing that chapter, I'd like to think that Kubrick could've, I don't know, done a little research. And he probably did and simply chose to ignore the last chapter anyway. It makes the film far more chilling that it ends the way it does.

Anyway, even with the little nit-picky points that I could make (for example, why was the writer in a wheelchair and what was up with the oddly-shaped added character of Julian?), this is an insanely good film. It's terrifying, darkly funny, and trippy in a way that only Kubrick knows how to do. It also follows the novel pretty well, oftentimes taking the script directly from the novel. Alex remains as our "humble narrator" and very little is removed from the book for the film.

The cinematography is genius, with strange angles, chilling close-ups, and good use of space. Whoever designed the costumes and hair for the film was probably on acid, but in this case I think that it adds something to the film. It has a seventies' flavor without drawing too much attention to the fact that it was a film made in the seventies. Burgess' intention was to create a novel that would stand the test of time, one that wasn't bogged down by a slang or a setting that belonged too much to one era. I think Kubrick did a good job of keeping that idea intact while still giving his original audience a taste of their own time period.

The soundtrack is, I think, the most incredible aspect of the entire thing. Kubrick sprinkles in quite a bit of Alex's beloved Ludwig Van and throws in some other decent classical pieces as well. The music always fits the scene and it's played in such a way that it manages to be orchestral, synthetic, and creepy all at once. It sets the mood for the film, right from the beginning, just as much as the opening shot of Alex staring into the camera does. Brilliant film-making on Kubrick's part.

I wish that they had used more of the Nadsat that was used in the book, but I think audiences would reject the film if they had, especially those who have never read the book. It's much harder to immerse yourself in a slang that you aren't familiar with if you're watching it on screen than it is to do so if you're reading it in a book. Kubrick uses many of the words ("horrorshow," "kroovy," "rookers," etc.), but does so sparingly, sprinkling them throughout the film rather than using Nadsat as the primary means of communication for Alex and his droogs.

Obviously, there are some things in this film that might upset some people or trigger bad memories. The film, like the book, contains violence and rape, and I wouldn't recommend it if you're overly sensitive to these things. I would recommend it, however, whether or not you liked the book. Malcolm Macdowell is the perfect Alex and his performance is nothing short of amazing. He portrays Alex so close to the way that I pictured him in the novel and adds an even eerier delusional innocence to him than I could have imagined.

If I were reviewing this film simply as a film, I would give it a full five Gabriels. Since, however, I'm looking at it in conjunction with the novel, it gets only 4 out of 5. While the film is arguably one of the best movie adaptations of a novel ever, there are some things that could have been improved upon.


Friday, July 8, 2011

French Music: "Diane de Poitiers" (Thomas Fersen)

Chanson (Song): "Diane de Poitiers"
Chanteur (Singer): Thomas Fersen

Paroles (Lyrics):

Que fait donc en ce lieu,
Parmi ces messieurs,
Cette blonde aux bras nus,
Si nus qu'elle éternue,
Dans ses doigts, elle se mouche
Et pour s'rincer la bouche,
Elle commande un cognac,
Puis un autre cognac,

Je lui dis à l'oreille:
"T'es belle comme Diane de Poitiers,
Veux tu prendre la moitié
De mon lit si t'as sommeil ?"
Elle me répond, je cite:
"Il faut pas que tu t'excites,
Ce n'est pas c'que tu penses,
Je suis restée vieille France."

"C'est d'accord, je t'acceuille,
Moi je dors dans le fauteuil
En tout bien, tout honneur,
Comme un frère et une soeur,
Toi le lit, moi la banquette,
À la bonne franquette,
C'est d'accord pour ce soir,
Moi je dors dans la baignoire.

Certes, je ne suis pas un saint
Et quand la lumière s'eteint,
Je n'ai pas toujours dit non
Mais jm'en remet à Platon
Pour nous deux c'est plus sage,
Vu la difference d'âge,
Non ce soir pas d'folies
Chacun dans son lit.

Soit je ne suis pas un moine,
J'dissipe mon patrimoine
Dans ce bar un peu glauque,
Ma voix est dev'nue rauque
À la suite des abus
Mais ce soir j'ai rien bu,
Non, ce soir je suis strict,
Le devoir me le dicte.

J'ai rien d'un ecclésiastique,
Ma conscience est élastique
Et si j'fais mon examen,
J'suis pas dans l'droit chemin,
Non, je ne suis pas très pieux
Quand c'est l'heure d'aller au pieu,
Je fais rarement ma prière,
J'préfère une petite bière.

Certes je ne suis pas un prêtre,
Ce s'rait mal me connaître,
Et les soirs de pleine lune,
J'en ai détournée plus d'une,
Mais faut pas rester dehors
Avec tout ces délinquants,
Sois tranquille, moi je dors
Sur le lit de camp.

Soit, j'suis pas un chérubin,
Faudrait que j'prenne un bain,
Que je rase sur mes joues
Cette barbe acajou,
Et mon linge n'est pas net,
Enfin, pour être honnête,
Ce matin dans le bus,
J'ai attrapé une puce.

Les nuits d'hiver sont longues
Dans ma baignoire oblongue,
Elles sont longues et frisquettes,
Surtout sur la banquette,
Le divan du séjour,
Le canapé d'velours,
Le fauteuil Louis-Phillipe.
À ch'val sur les principes!

C'est d'accord, je t'accueille,
Moi je dors dans le fauteuil
En tout bien, tout honneur,
Comme un frère et une soeur,
Toi le lit, moi la banquette,
À la bonne franquette,
C'est d'accord pour ce soir,
Moi je dors dans la baignoire."

I don't have an English translation for you guys because there were a few sentences that I just could not figure out. I will, however, say that this is a funny song about a guy trying to talk a woman into staying overnight with him by promising her that, even though he's not a perfect guy, he means nothing sexual by his offer. Even without knowing what it means, though, it's still pretty kick-ass. 


French Film: Le Dîner de Cons (1998)

It's been several years since I've seen this film (which I watched for a French class in college), so this is less of a review of a film and more of a suggestion to watch said film.

Title: Le Dîner de Cons (The Dinner Game)
Year: 1998
Starring: Thierry Lhermitte, Jacques Villeret
Plot: Pierre and his group of friends host a dinner party every week to which each man invites a total stranger. This sounds like a nice gesture, but, in actuality, these dinners are a chance for them to humiliate people they think are ridiculous--men with strange hobbies or habits or people who are just plain stupid. Pierre plans on bringing François, a man he is sure will take the prize at the next "dîner de cons." But things don't go as planned when Pierre throws his back out and his wife leaves him and the only person around to help him is François. Soon Pierre is bombarded by crazy mistresses, possible tax audits, and a whole host of other problems as François' attempts to help only make things worse.

Why You Should Watch It: This is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen in any language. The humor effortlessly moves from sophisticated to raunchy to slapstick and back. Both Lhermitte (Pierre) and Villeret (François) are fantastic actors who move the film forward seamlessly from beginning to end. Other memorable characters include Marlene, Pierre's psychotic mistress, and François' tax inspector friend, Lucien.

What makes the film really great, however, is the chemistry between Pierre and François. There's tension there because a) Pierre is in a lot of pain (both physically and emotionally) and François keeps making it worse and b) sweet, stupid François doesn't understand what he's doing wrong and keeps trying to make it up to a man he thinks is his friend. Throughout the film, Pierre comes to see his mistakes in life because they are laid bare to him by someone he thinks is a complete moron. It gives the story a soul that other comedies are lacking.

Why You Should Watch It in French: Obviously it's up to you if you watch it in French with subtitles or just watch an English dub. There's one joke, however, that I think works much better in French than in English. François accidentally calls Pierre's mistress, Marlène, whom Pierre has been attempting to cut out of his life...but he knows none of this. When he gets off the phone he tells Pierre that he's been talking to his sister. Pierre, who doesn't have a sister, is confused. When he informs François of this fact, the man insists the woman said that she was his sister. Pierre suddenly realizes what happened. Marlène's last name is Hissister. At least, in the English version it is. In the French version her name is Sasseur, which sounds like "sa soeur," which is French for "his sister." To me, Hissister is a crap last name and the joke loses some of its appeal because it's so obvious. In the French version, it's more subtle and it's funnier that François makes that mistake. In the English dub, it just comes off as being a weak attempt at being funny.

What About That Other Version?: Okay, so apparently America has to ruin everything foreign and this film is no exception. In 2010, a film called Dinner for Schmucks came out, starring Paul Rudd and Steve Carell, which is supposed to be a reboot of sorts. I've heard that it's absolutely awful and if you've seen it, don't let it keep you from watching Le Dîner de Cons. Personally, I haven't watched the atrociousness that is Schmucks, but I'm assuring you that Cons is a film you won't regret seeing.


Francophone Fridays

All this month, I'm participating in Paris in July, which means that I'll be reviewing some French novels, introducing you to French music, and just generally talking about all things French. Of course, this is a book blog first and foremost, so I wanted to make sure that my blog didn't get overwhelmed by French culture at the detriment of everything else. So, I'm implementing Francophone Fridays. It's the one day a week where I can let loose and ramble on and on about France (or in French). This is the day that you'll see links to French music, reviews of French films, information on culture in France, photos of French monuments, etc. The rest of the week will be devoid of anything Francophone. I think this keeps everything nice and tidy and keeps me from becoming an absolute bore.

Alors, bienvenue à vendredi francophones!


Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Secret Kleenex Marketing Scheme: A Review of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (2005)
Pages: 552
How I Came By This Book: This book was recommended to me by Ellie and was chosen by my followers in a poll. The book itself came from, where else?, my library. 
Challenges: GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: "It's just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery...."

Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she discovers something she can't resist--books. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever they are to be found. 

With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. 

Markus Zusak, award-winning author of I Am the Messenger, has crafted an unforgettable novel about the ability of books to feed the soul.

SPOILER WARNING: I am going to be incapable of talking about this book without discussing major plot points, including the ending. If you want this book to remain unspoiled, don't read this review. I'm giving it five out of five Gabriels and suggesting that you go get a copy and read it right now. For those of you who wish to continue, don't say I didn't warn you.

Review: I actually read this book last month and am just getting around to reviewing it. With any other book, the time between my reading it and my reviewing it might have hindered said review; with The Book Thief there's no chance of that. I don't think I'll ever forget this book...or the way it made me feel.

I had heard of this book ages ago and, as has been the case with a lot of the books I've read for this blog, I put off reading it for one reason or another. Sure, it was narrated by Death, which is usually all it takes to get me to read a book, but that wasn't enough for me. Even though I love history, the Holocaust isn't an event that interests me. Let me clarify this statement: I am in no way saying that I don't find it interesting. What I'm saying is that it's very difficult for me to read books or watch films pertaining to the Holocaust (and World War II in general). The horrors of what occurred in concentration camps, firebombed towns, and people's own homes is often too hard for me to experience even on a second-hand basis. Therefore, I tend to avoid reading books like this one. It was chosen by my readers, however, so I forced myself to sit down and read it...and I finished it less than 24 hours later.

What I discovered between the covers of this sizable book was compelling, touching, funny, terrifying, and uplifting all at once. The characters are fully-realized and they become almost like friends within only a few chapters of being introduced to them. You are instantly drawn into Liesel's story and are engaged with it right up to the end. Her triumphs are your triumphs; her failures affect you as much as they affect her. It's like you've been dumped into Nazi Germany and are an invisible, yet integral, part of her foster family. This, of course, makes the ending of this novel even more difficult to deal with. 

The characters that I found to be the most endearing and memorable are Rudy (Liesel's best friend), Hans Hubermann (her foster father), and Max Vandenburg (the Jewish fist fighter). The story itself takes place over several years so the reader really gets to know these people. Zusak is so skilled at character building that I could almost believe that he was simply telling a story about real people rather than characters he made up in his head. They each have hopes, dreams, fears; they all have back stories and unique voices; and they each play their role in the novel so perfectly. You want so much for these people to realize their full potential, to have futures, and to continue to influence the world around them. Some of the characters do but many of them do not (a point which will be discussed later). 

The narrative structure is unique and is one of the things that really drew me into the novel. Death is a perfect narrator for a story about World War II, a war in which millions upon millions died. He's also perfect for the job because he knows everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen. The story jumps from the past to the present to the future on several occasions and Death himself gives some spoilers away throughout the story. It's a brilliant way to engage the reader and to keep them reading until the end. Just enough is given away that it makes you fear for these people and what happens to them and you practically race to the end to discover what Death is talking about. Several times I made guesses about what was going to happen (some of them wrong, some of them right) but when I got there, even when I was right, I was still surprised by what I found. I was also surprised by how I felt. 

I never give away endings in my reviews, but I need to make an exception for this book. Once again I'm going to put up a SPOILER WARNING and tell anyone who doesn't want to know what happens to stop reading this review and go read the book. You really won't be disappointed. I promise.

For those of you still with me, this may be the only time that I ever break my rule about not giving a book away. Death spoils it for the reader before it happens, but that doesn't make it any less emotional of an ending and it doesn't mean that you won't be affected any less than you would have been originally. 

I'm talking, of course, about the firebombing of Liesel's neighborhood, the one which, at the end of the novel, literally destroys everything she's ever known. Death describes in detail what's going on as the characters in the novel are killed in their sleep by falling bombs. Rudy, Liesel's foster parents, the Hitler-loving Frau Diller, the unfortunate Tommy Müller--everyone Liesel knows dies in the same night. Liesel herself survives the bombing only by chance and is left to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. 

I'm not usually an emotional person, although I won't say that I don't ever get teary-eyed. The end of this novel made me completely break down. I started getting emotional around the time that Liesel's father attempted to feed starving Jews who were being marched to Dachau concentration camp and I didn't really stop feeling that way for the rest of the book. It was the end, however, that made me cry harder than anything else ever has in my entire life and I sincerely mean that. I don't remember ever having been so emotionally involved and attached to fictional characters nor do I remember ever mourning them as much as I did. Even now, a few weeks later, while writing this review I'm getting a little choked up. Zusak delves so deeply into these characters that they feel real and you mourn them as if they were real. 

This is the true joy that this book brings and its the reason why I felt compelled to discuss the ending. I couldn't fully explain how it had affected me without explaining why it had affected me. The plot and the dialogue in this novel are well-planned and well-written but it is the characters that Zusak introduces you to that will stick with you. I think this is why Death doesn't stop himself from giving away the ending. He knows that no matter how much you know about what's going to happen to these people, you will still use up an entire box of Kleenex in the last fifty pages. 

There is a lot in this book that is hard to read: parades of starving Jews, firebombings, book burnings, suicide, the horrors of war. None of it detracts in any way from the novel and, in fact, I couldn't see the book having the same emotional impact without them. To fully immerse yourself into a story about an historical event, you need to be confronted with the realities faced by people living during that time period. This is especially true of World War II, an event which saw the murder of 6 million Jews, the death of millions of Russian soldiers (not to mention thousands of American, Italian, British, German...the list goes on), the dropping of two atomic bombs, the storming of the beaches of Normandy, the internment of Japanese-Americans, and the horrific firebombing of Dresden (which killed more people and damaged more property than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined). 

Zusak is able to weave the real-life horrors of war into the story with the same skill that he weaves the characters back stories into the story. It is some of the most chilling writing I've experienced this year and it's made even more so by the fact that it's Death himself who is doing the talking. That is not to say that there isn't humor in this novel. There's loads of that. There's as much humor and joy as there is tragedy and sadness. Zusak strikes just the right balance between the two--you laugh so hard your sides hurt and then you cry so hard that your eyes hurt. It's everything I've come to expect from a great novel...and more.

The Book Thief gets five out of five Gabriels from me and is my favorite out of all the books I've read so far for this blog. Read it, even if you didn't listen to my warnings and you went ahead and read the review anyway. There is so much to love about this novel, not the least of which is the fact that it's a great cathartic experience.