This week I’m joining Shelia at Book Journey in celebrating Banned Books Week. Check out her blog every day this week for links to other blogs with posts about banned books.
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: January 5, 2010
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard–falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High… until vicious rumors about her and her best friend’s boyfriend start going around. Now Regina’s been “frozen out” and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn’t come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend… if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don’t break them both first.
Tensions grow and the abuse worsens as the final days of senior year march toward an explosive conclusion in this dark new tale from the author of Cracked Up To Be.
Regina Afton is one of the Fearsome Fivesome, the most popular clique of girls at her high school. They rule by intimidation and seem to have absolute power in the school. After Regina is nearly raped by her best friend’s boyfriend, she makes the mistake of confiding in one of her frenemies, who is also a Fearsome Fivesome member, Kara. Instead of being supportive, Kara starts a vicious rumor about Regina and just like that, she’s frozen out of the group.
Regina is flawed, to say the least. She makes bad choices over and over, to the point that you want to shake her. But she’s still in high school so I think that’s totally realistic, even if completely frustrating. There was so much tension in this book that my stomach was in knots pretty much the entire time I was reading it. Regina’s former friends are vicious in their full scale attack on her to get revenge for what Kara says Regina did.
The heart of this book is what happens when the bully becomes the bullied. I appreciated the realism this book brought forth. It wasn’t the formulaic story you would expect where Regina learns her lesson straight away and embarks on a path of redemption. Do normal high schoolers do that? No. Most are self-absorbed teenagers, they don’t always get things right away, if at all. This is a good book for high schoolers to read, everyone will relate to at least one of the characters and realize that they are not alone. It would also make for a lively classroom discussion. There is mention of sex but no graphic sex scenes. There is also quite a bit of swearing but like I’ve said before, it you’re teenager hasn’t heard those words before, you might want to let them out from under that rock you’ve got them trapped under. I think this is a great book about that high school kids will appreciate.
Why is Some Girls Are featured as part of my Banned Books week celebration? Well, I’ll tell you. It was on the summer reading list for kids at Charleston, South Carolina’s West Ashley High School this summer along with Rikers High by Paul Volponi. Students could choose to read one or the other. Melanie MacDonald, a parent of a student in the district, read to page 74 of Some Girls Are and decided that it was “smut”. She didn’t even read the whole thing before passing judgement! Instead of just having her daughter read the other choice on the list, she launched a full scale campaign to have the book removed from the reading list. And the school caved. Based on ONE parent’s complaint. A parent who took it upon herself to decide what was appropriate for all of the children in the school to read, not just her own. You can read Courtney Summers’ excellent response to the situation here. Have you read any banned books lately?
September 28th, 2015 in
Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace
Publisher: William Morrow
Released in 2012
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s all about a man who one night helps a girl. Just for a second. And there’s a moment between them. But then it’s over. She disappears. But in his hands, he realizes he’s still got something of hers…
Her disposable camera. So what should he do? Develop the film? Or forget about her? He develops the film. Of course he does. And he looks at her photos. And that’s when he spots something very unusual indeed…
Charlotte Street is a British romantic comedy along the same lines as a Nick Hornby novel. Jason Priestly (not that Jason Priestly) has recently quit his job as a school teacher to become a journalist. He’s ended up writing reviews for a free paper that’s handed out at the train station – not exactly where he wants to be. If that’s not disappointing enough, he finds out through Facebook that his recently ex-girlfriend is engaged.
One day, he sees a girl on the street struggling with her packages. Jason doesn’t notice until she’s riding away in a cab that she’s dropped her disposable camera. His friend Dev convinces him to go on a quest to find the mystery girl – she might be the girl of Jason’s dreams.
Oh, how I love dry British wit. There’s no shortage of it in Charlotte Street. Jason’s friend Dev is the best. He is so clueless and funny without realizing it. A couple of the situations were a little too much on the side of screwball comedy, which I do not care for, but most of the book was just really funny. If this book were a movie, a young Hugh Grant would play Jason. The book has been optioned by Working Title Films but I couldn’t find any information on whether it will actually be made into a movie. I hope it is.
I really enjoyed Danny Wallace’s sense of humor and plan to read more of his books.
(I received a complementary review copy of this book.)
September 24th, 2015 in
Wednesday I reviewed Gillian Flynn’s novel Dark Places. Today’s review is for the movie adaptation of Dark Places which was released a couple of months ago. Charlize Theron plays Libby Day, the woman whose testimony as a young girl was instrumental in her brother being convicted of the murder of their mother and two sisters. Like in the book, Libby has been numb since the murders, living her life in an emotionless haze. Theron had the right idea in her performance as Libby but I think she took it a little too far. Her performance seemed more wooden than numb. And a note to the costumer about the trucker’s hat that Libby wears throughout the movie: That hat looked brand new! It needed to be roughed up to look worn out and aged. It was really distracting to me that someone who is not only poor but doesn’t care about her appearance at all was wearing a brand new hat. And a note to the make-up artist: It was clear that Charlize had on makeup. Christina Hendricks, who played Libby’s mother in flashbacks, clearly either didn’t have any make up on or the makeup artist did a much better job of making her look like she didn’t have any on. I thought Charlize didn’t look like Libby at all. Libby is depressed and apathetic– she should have looked more slovenly. Charlize wasn’t afraid to get all uglied up in Monster so I don’t know why she didn’t do it in this movie. It bugged me for the whole movie!
The plot followed the book pretty closely and included as much detail as it could in a two-hour movie. I would have liked to have seen most of the characters developed more, especially Ben and Diondra. I couldn’t help but wonder what the screenplay would have been like if Flynn adapted it herself since she did such a fabulous job adapting Gone Girl.
I was surprised how many big names were in this movie since it’s a little independent film. Christina Hendricks played Libby’s mom, Corey Stoll (Peter from House of Cards) was Ben, Chloë Grace Moretz (I love her!) was young Diondra and Drea de Matteo was Krissi.
Here’s an interesting article I posted on this blog’s Facebook page a few weeks ago about why the movie of Dark Places flew completely under the radar, especially compared to the madness that surrounded Gone Girl. The poor movie actually started filming BEFORE Gone Girl did and was supposed to be a little independent film. It had no aspirations to be as popular as Gone Girl because Gone Girl didn’t exist. It also faced a lot of production problems. Reading the article made me feel sorry for the poor director of Dark Places.
My husband and I went into watching this movie with horrible expectations because the movie did not get great reviews. Of course, having read the book, I felt compelled to watch it. I didn’t think it was THAT bad, probably due to my low expectations. I thought it was on par with a Lifetime movie thriller, like Mother May I Sleep with Danger starring Tory Spelling. My husband, who hasn’t read the book, thought it was pretty good with a few plot holes. Most of them are due to a poor adaptation but after he pointed them out, I realized some of them were originally in the book.
This is a moderately enjoyable movie but just like with the novel, don’t go in expecting it to be Gone Girl.
September 18th, 2015 in
Page to Screen
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Publisher: Broadway Books
Paperback Release: 2010
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.
Dark Places is Gillian Flynn’s second novel. I think it’s important when reading Flynn’s earlier books not to make comparisons to her amazing third novel, Gone Girl. Remember that Dark Places is her second book so one wouldn’t expect it to be as good as Gone Girl. That said, it was pretty darn good. The main character is Libby Day. When Libby was a child, her brother Ben was convicted of killing their mother and two sisters. It was Libby’s testimony that was instrumental in putting him away. Libby’s an adult now and lives her life walking around in an emotionless haze. It’s really hard to empathize with her because she doesn’t seem to feel sadness or anger about what happened – she’s just numb. I didn’t like her very much at all. But you don’t need to like Libby to enjoy this book. You probably aren’t meant to like her.
Lyle, a member of Kill Club, a group obsessed with real life murders, approaches her and suggests that someone other Ben killed her family. Libby is outraged – she saw what happened. Eventually, Lyle convinces Libby to help him investigate. She agrees so that she can prove to him that her brother is a murderer.
I’m usually pretty good at guessing the ending to thrillers and mysteries but not in this case. This book has so many twists and turns that my head was spinning. Flynn is so great at weaving a complicated plot together, keeping the reader confused (in a good way) about how everything fits together until the very end.
When Gone Girl was released three years ago, I had the pleasure of attending Gillian’s book signing in Kansas City. Incidentally, Flynn is from Kansas City. That’s also where Libby and I live so it was fun reading about real-life landmarks that are in my city. Libby’s hometown of Kinnakee is fictional though.
Anyway, at the signing, Gillian also shared some thoughts and answered questions about Dark Places:
• Dark Places started out as a fictional look at the McMartain preschool case in California. [If you look up that case, you’ll see that it ended up being just a small piece of Dark Place’s story.]
• In the first draft of Dark Places, Libby was supposed to be perky because she didn’t want another dark narrator like in Sharp Objects. She changed her mind after her husband read the first draft and said it was clear that she didn’t like writing Libby.
• She doesn’t start out knowing how a book will end. The twists and turns come to her as she goes. She writes her books five or six times!
• She said I was very attentive and had a friendly face so she looked at me a lot during her talk. [I already mentioned that in my review of Gone Girl but it can’t hurt to tell you again!]
My reviews of Gillian Flynn’s other books:
September 16th, 2015 in
Normally I don’t write movie reviews for movies that aren’t an adaptation of a book, but I feel compelled to review Straight Outta Compton because it blew me away. I was a fan of NWA and other gansta rap acts in high school and college but I didn’t know too much about the behind the scenes goings on. This movie covers when NWA first came together in 1986 up through the early 90s.
NWA is probably most known for their song F*ck the Police. The movie shows the tension between the police and the black community at that time and the racism that the group members individually experienced that led to Ice Cube writing this song. If you can get over the shock of the song’s title and listen to the lyrics, you’ll realize that not much has changed, especially recently with the Black Lives Matter movement and the incidents that inspired its creation.
I was surprised at how emotional I felt watching this movie. From the incidents of racism to the group’s relationship with each other and their manager. Tears were streaming down my face towards the end. My husband was not a fan of gansta rap or NWA and told me that not everyone knows of the tragedy that made me cry – he didn’t for sure – so I won’t spoil it for you.
The casting in this film was great. Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., plays him. Not only is he a great actor, he looks just like his father- especially later in the film when he doesn’t have Jehri curls anymore. Corey Hawkins plays Dr. Dre and the resemblance is uncanny.
The one criticism I have is that the movie didn’t go deep enough. A lot of events were left out or skimmed over. But here’s the thing, a lot happened to NWA and to the gansta rap genre that they were instrumental in creating. The industry was one big soap opera. The movie is already two and a half hours long. It would have to be a mini-series to get everything in. Or a separate biopic for each artist. As is, I think what the writers and director have chosen to highlight are the right things.
I felt so nostalgic driving home from this movie. I wanted to get out my old CDs and listen to them. Then I remembered that small children live in my house and there’s a reason why those CDs are packed away! Someday…
September 14th, 2015 in
You all know I love the Get Your Pretty On Style Challenges. It’s time for the 2015 Fall Challenge! Here’s how it works: You sign up for the challenge and are sent a shopping list of all the items you will need to style the 21 challenge outfits. This challenge is not about buying an all-new wardrobe. Alison encourages shopping in your own closet for the items first. All of the items mix and match – you will be building a fall wardrobe “capsule”. Alison will start releasing the daily outfits on October 4th. Then dressing for the day becomes a snap – you have all the items needed for the outfit, just put them together and go! There is room for creativity too – you can use a different color scheme than the sample items on the shopping list or make substitutions. You will be granted access to the challenge Facebook page where you can post your daily outfits and see how other people put their outfits together. It’s a fun, supportive community.
Now is the time to sign up for the Fall 2015 Challenge. Alison says, “Imagine waking up every morning knowing EXACTLY what you’re going to wear that day, walking into a closet full of mix and match, on-trend pieces that you love. No more wandering around the mall wondering what to buy.”
Early Bird Registration Closes: 9/17 at midnight ET. You can sign up by clicking here.
Some of my outfits from the Spring 2015 Challenge:
Some of my outfits from the Summer 2015 Challenge:
September 12th, 2015 in
The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs: A Novel by Matthew Dicks
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: September 8, 2015
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Caroline Jacobs is a wimp, someone who specializes in the suffering of tiny indignities in silence. And the big ones, too. But when the twinset wearing president of the local Parent Teacher Organization steps out of line one too many times, Caroline musters the courage to assert herself. With a four-letter word, no less.
Caroline’s outburst has awakened something in her. Not just gumption, but a realization that the roots of her tirade can be traced back to something that happened to her as a teenager, when her best friend very publicly betrayed her. So, with a little bit of bravery, Caroline decides to go back to her home town and tell off her childhood friend. She busts her daughter out of school, and the two set off to deliver the perfect comeback . . . some twenty-five years later. But nothing goes as planned. Long buried secrets rise to the surface, and Caroline finds she has to face much more than one old, bad best friend.
The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs is an enchanting novel about the ways in which our childhood experiences reverberate through our lives. It’s the story of a woman looking to fix her life through an act of bravery, and of a mother and daughter learning to understand one another. Deceptively simple and highly engaging, this latest novel by Matthew Dicks is perfect for those of us who were last to be picked at sports, and for everyone who is thrilled not to be in high school any more.
Caroline Jacobs has finally had enough and yells the f-word at the PTO president during a meeting. Since Caroline is typically timid and basically a push-over, this is a very big deal. The next day, someone teases Caroline’s daughter Polly about it and ends up getting punched in the nose by Polly. Knowing that Polly will be suspended, Caroling takes her out of school and on a road trip to the town she grew up in. She’s decided that if she could stand up to the PTO president, then she can stand up to the girl who was mean to her in high school.
On the surface, the premise of this story is a tad unbelievable. How could someone still hold a grudge for so long over something that happened in high school? However, when I found out the deeper reason that Caroline couldn’t let it go, I understood. So just go with it until you get to that point, which is near the end. Polly and Caroline’s relationship is believable. Polly definitely has the teenage angst thing going for her. And of course she thinks she’s way smarter than her dear old mom. It was fun to see their relationship evolve on their road trip.
I think the story would have been more impactful if there were more flashbacks to Caroline and her sister Lucy when they were kids. If their relationship was developed more, then it would be a lot easier to sympathize with Caroline. The book weighs in at just over 200 pages so there would definitely room for this.
Dick’s novel Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is one of my favorite all time books. The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs was good on its own merits but didn’t have the originality of Memoirs so if you’ve read that, keep your expectations in check. If you want something light, quick and fun, then this is the book for you.
(I received a complementary review copy of this book.)
September 11th, 2015 in
Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy
Release Date: September 8, 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
One doctor’s passionate and profound memoir of his experience grappling with race, bias, and the unique health problems of black Americans
When Damon Tweedy begins medical school, he envisions a bright future where his segregated, working-class background will become largely irrelevant. Instead, he finds that he has joined a new world where race is front and center. The recipient of a scholarship designed to increase black student enrollment, Tweedy soon meets a professor who bluntly questions whether he belongs in medical school, a moment that crystallizes the challenges he will face throughout his career. Making matters worse, in lecture after lecture the common refrain for numerous diseases resounds, “More common in blacks than whites.”
Black Man in a White Coat examines the complex ways in which both black doctors and patients must navigate the difficult and often contradictory terrain of race and medicine. As Tweedy transforms from student to practicing physician, he discovers how often race influences his encounters with patients. Through their stories, he illustrates the complex social, cultural, and economic factors at the root of most health problems in the black community. These issues take on greater meaning when Tweedy is himself diagnosed with a chronic disease far more common among black people. In this powerful, moving, and deeply empathic book, Tweedy explores the challenges confronting black doctors, and the disproportionate health burdens faced by black patients, ultimately seeking a way forward to better treatment and more compassionate care.
Black Man in a White Coat is Damon Tweedy’s memoir of his experience as a black man getting into medical school up through becoming a practicing physician. At the very beginning of medical school, one of his professors mistook him for a maintenance worker even though he was dressed nicely and had been in his class for a month. Tweedy recounts his embarrassment, even though it was the professor who should have been embarrassed. He also talks about the mixed emotions he felt about a form of affirmative action being one of the reasons that he was admitted to Duke medical school.
Once he starts interacting with patients, he has a variety of experiences related to race that make him aware of the issues that both black doctors and black patients face. Some of them aren’t too surprising (although still horrible), like the white patient who didn’t want a black doctor. Some were very surprising to me. For instance, he encountered a black patient who didn’t want a black doctor. Tweedy backs up his personal examples with research that shows whatever issues he encounters exist on a larger scale. They are not isolated incidents experienced only by him.
Tweedy writes about medical information in an accessible manner with a conversational tone. My eyes were opened to race related issues in the medical field that I hadn’t previously considered. This is a great memoir that I highly recommend.
(I received a complementary review copy of this book.)
September 9th, 2015 in
The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: August 11, 2015
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In a windowless building in a remote part of town, the newly employed Josephine inputs an endless string of numbers into something known only as The Database. After a long period of joblessness, she’s not inclined to question her fortune, but as the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings-the office’s scarred pinkish walls take on a living quality, the drone of keyboards echoes eerily down the long halls. When one evening her husband Joseph disappears and then returns, offering no explanation as to his whereabouts, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread.
As other strange events build to a crescendo, the haunting truth about Josephine’s work begins to take shape in her mind, even as something powerful is gathering its own form within her. She realizes that in order to save those she holds most dear, she must penetrate an institution whose tentacles seem to extend to every corner of the city and beyond. Both chilling and poignant, The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a novel of rare restraint and imagination. With it, Helen Phillips enters the company of Murakami, Bender, and Atwood as she twists the world we know and shows it back to us full of meaning and wonder-luminous and new.
This was an unusual book. It’s been compared to Kafka’s books in many reviews. Unfortunately, I haven’t read Kafka so I can’t attest to whether that’s true or not. It actually reminded me of a David Lynch movie, which is to say it had a dark, eerie atmosphere and an absurdist plot. (I don’t mean absurd in a bad way.)
Josephine is an office worker who inputs data day after day. She has no idea what the data is or what purpose it serves. Her boss is a faceless person, distinguished only by having extremely bad breath. Her immediate supervisor is cheery, but yet creepy Trishifanny. (Her parents couldn’t decide between Trish and Tiffany.) The author does a great job of immersing the reader in the heavy atmosphere that Josephine lives in. Her life both in her office and outside with her husband are bleak and depressing. The middle of the book seemed repetitive to me but I think that repetition was necessary in order for the reader to understand what Josephine’s life is like. Her life is very repetitive. Data, day after day, after day.
I listened to the audio version of this book. I think listening to the book made the experience even more dark and creepy. The author was great at varying her voice for the different characters. I especially loved her voice for Trishifanny. She captured her false cheerfulness perfectly.
Often when I read books like these, I sense that there is deeper symbolism that is going over my head. That was the case in this book. However, I think many readers would be able to appreciate this book on all levels. Fans of science fiction along the lines of George Orwell’s books would like this book. Fans of Kafka probably would as well. If you read it, let me know. I’d love to discuss this book with someone.
(I received a complementary review copy of this book.)
September 2nd, 2015 in
A little over a year ago, both my son and I read and enjoyed The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot. It’s about Hilary, a girl who wants to be a pirate. She applies to the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates training program but is rejected because is a girl and sent to finishing school instead. You can find my review here. When it came time to make the list of books for my churches Intergenerational Book Club (IGBC) to read, my son suggested it and I agreed to facilitate the discussion.
All of the kids and grown-ups gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up. There are a lot of magical objects in the book and the magic was definitely one of the kids’ favorite parts. They had fun talking about how they would use magic both as a regular person and as a pirate.
We have a lot more boys in IGBC than girls and not a single one was phased by the main character being a girl. And of course the females in our group were thrilled to have read a book with a strong female lead character.
Whenever I facilitate the discussion, I like to bring a snack that somehow ties into the book. The pirates in this book eat a lot of hardtack, which is basically a super hard cracker. Because it literally never spoils, it’s great to take on sea voyages. However, it’s not sold in the regular grocery store so I had my husband and son make some. It was pretty easy – just flour, water and salt. I also brought Veggie Pirate’s Booty and Cheese Pirate’s Booty in case the hardtack didn’t go over well. To my surprise everybody loved it! My son said it tasted similar to a saltine cracker only super hard. I tried to taste it but I couldn’t bite into my piece. If we ever make it again, we’ll roll it out thinner – that should help make it more edible.
All in all, this book lead to one of our liveliest discussions. All of the kids were really engaged and excited about sharing their thoughts on this book.
For more reviews of books for children and teens, check out Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection, posted on Saturdays. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, you can go to her site to leave a comment and your link .
August 31st, 2015 in
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