15’ish Books

Photo on 10-12-15 at 9.29 AMThere was this thing going around on Facebook about list your favorite or most life-changing books – 15 in 15 minutes. However, being a writer, I was not able to contain myself.

It took me longer than 15 minutes to put this list together. Because I have something to say about every single book, and I can’t not say it. Oh well.

Strunk and White might be turning in their graves, but I’m okay with that. When it comes to talking about loving books, there are never enough words.

  1. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. The best of her work. The ultimate guide to a thinking woman’s seduction.
  2. The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis. A reverent, lyrical examination of one last human moment. If you have been to Crete, you will recognize the wilderness of mind and body.
  3. Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen. The human nature of virgins, beauty, and rigidity. A solve-for-yourself prose experiment written in time to prayers.
  4. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. When I grow up, I want to write like her.
  5. The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse by Daphne Lamb. New release by a friend of mine. If you have read Swift, if you brush elbows with Voltaire’s Candide, and if you like World War Z, this book will suck out your brain in a super-pleasurable reading experience.
  6. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Forget Stephen King. This book will terrify you. Elegantly. Another woman I want to write like when I grow up.
  7. Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman. I first fell in love with Eleanor Herman when I read “Sex with Kings.” After meeting her at BEA15 and reading the ARC of Legacy of Kings, all I can say is, there is yet another woman I want to write like when I grow up. Her handling of Alexander the Great as a teenager with mystery, suspense, action, romance, and…..freaking accurate history!!!!!!!!!!!!! (cough, sorry cough) is balls-out amazing.
  8. In the Woods by Tana French. Not so much a fan of The Likeness, but everything else is amazing. Reading her is like reading an elegant, addictive, meditative thriller.
  9. A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchmann. LONG ASS BOOK but amazing. She brings the reflection of the 1300’s close to home by bringing to life the lives of people both noble and “villein” of the 14th Everything that nonfiction history should be.
  10. Delta of Venus by Anais Nin. Authentic literary erotica. Read during Vassar years after viewing “Henry & June.” If you can peep past the sex, you will see poetry and the complexity of human love and sexuality.
  11. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. See above, except replace with: If you can peep past the sex, you will see a tale of how the most sordid of experiences becomes the most sublime.
  12. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. After reading the book, watch the movie by Sofia Coppola. A rare instance where one is as good as the other.
  13. Finishing out the list with the Twilight Series and the Fifty Shades of Grey Series because they inspired me to believe that if these books – while enjoyable with suspension of many, many, many things – could be mega successes, I could write a mega success, too. While “Downcast” hasn’t exactly hit it big yet, I will say that an average of 4.7 stars on Amazon out of 28 reviewers ain’t bad. Thanks, Stephenie Meyer and E.L. James. Someday, though, I will eat your lunch.

Book Review: The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse

Girl's GuideIt’s both funny and sad when a book that is meant to be comic inadvertently hits the nail on the head on what would happen after a tragedy like a viral apocalypse. Daphne Lamb’s “The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse” makes you laugh while wanting to tear your hair out and grimly admitting that her scenarios are probably closer to reality than you would like to believe.

 

In a world that has lost indoor plumbing – and worse, the internet – Verdell has to learn that just getting along and trying to get people to just get along won’t work any more. But, that doesn’t stop her from trying to slack her way to survival in a world where Twitter still exists…as a bulletin board in a quarantine camp.

 

Let’s be straight here. This book is satire. It’s not supposed to be an accurate representation of what would happen in a post-apocalyptic world. Satire, by nature, is full of exaggeration, pointy ends, and portraiture of the absurd and ridiculous. If you go into this book with the expectation of fantastic satire, you will be well rewarded.

 

And by rewarded, I mean you will laugh. You will do the wheezy, ugly laughter complete with snot and snorting.

 

If you are a connoisseur of satire, you will also want to pay tribute to Lamb’s brilliant homage to Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels.” More subtle, perhaps, is the way Verdell becomes a millennial version of Voltaire’s “Candide.”

 

I found this book to have razor-sharp writing. It’s the kind of writing that should be held up as a paragon of “Show-don’t-Tell” technique. The wit is incisive, but some of the slices are so subtle that you wonder if it was just a paper cut until you realize that Lamb has skewered your jugular.

 

One of the best things about this book is the way Lamb deals with the things we would really be looking for and struggling without in a post-apocalyptic world…like drinking water. And indoor plumbing. Yet, she also shows us that Maslow’s Hierarchy may very well have been irrevocably changed by the self-indulgence and narcissistic egoism of today’s culture. A hot shower is nice, but a cell phone signal is f*cking gold. Her survivors are still focused on themselves, but not so much on procuring food for themselves as securing “networking” opportunities and spreading various “gospels.”

 

This book is awesome, and I devoured it in just a couple of hours. I am still savoring the bits that are floating around in my brain, making me giggle at inappropriate times of day. I cannot wait for more from Daphne Lamb, including a hopefully-hinted-at sequel!

Get it here on Amazon or here on Barnes & Noble.

Book Review: The Broken Half

The broken halfThe Broken Half by Sahar Abdulaziz is an important book. It is not an easy book to read because of the unblinkingly honest look at a topic that is uncomfortable for any community to address, and perhaps even more complex in some Muslim communities because of certain cultural norms that conflict with religious expectations.

The book follows the story of Jamal and Zahra Evans. They are modern, American-born Muslims. There is a dirty secret in their marriage, though, and soon enough, dirty begins to verge on deadly as Jamal’s physical, verbal, and emotional abuse of Zahra escalates.

Take away the hijab, the musjid, and the various bits of Arabic that naturally pepper the dialogue, and you would be reading a textbook case history of what led both parties in an abusive relationship to enter into the relationship, why they react the way they do, and the death spiral that begins the moment the first blow lands.

But, the point of this story is that there is the hijab, the musjid, and the bits of Arabic, just as much as the characters talk about grocery shopping doing the laundry, and the trials of finding a good auto mechanic. I’m not here to go in depth about the culture of Muslims in America, nor to expound on the theology of Islam. Nor, am I going to set myself up as an expert on Middle Eastern and South Asian ex-patriot culture.

However, I did grow up being as close as family with many Muslims, primarily from Pakistan and India. I saw a broad spectrum of interpretation of Islam, just as I’ve seen a broad spectrum of interpretations of Christianity from going to Catholic school, and Judaism from being married into a Jewish family for a number of years.

Abdulaziz writes pointedly and poignantly about the conflicting views of women from those who adhere to a misogynist reading of the Quran and reinforce their viewpoints with outdated misogynist cultural practices literally from another century.

Clearly, Abdulaziz’s message is that righteousness and compassion are nothing without action, and that in order to be a truly good person and a good Muslim, one cannot turn a blind eye to anyone’s suffering. In the true spirit of the Quranic verses that she quotes, it is clear that there is no room for bull-headed machismo or ignorant chauvinism in Allah’s directives for the treatment of women.

The Broken Half is a damning indictment of communities that unfortunately all-too-often look the other way, retreat into comfortable cultural tropes, and rearrange religion to spare themselves difficult conversations and confrontations.

Not every Muslim community is like the one she describes, however, one character’s sentiment that unless the Imam of the musjid starts to move with the times and embrace the needed cultural change, young people will continue flee the musjids, unwilling to be associated with such monolithic and misogynistic institutions.

Kindness and compassion are universals in every religion, and Islam is no different. Islam was meant to be a religion that both protected and promoted women, giving them legal rights and legal refuge, respect, and adoration. What it has become in many parts of the world today and in many communities reflects poorly on the people, not the book. It is the same disintegration of principle that drives extremist Christian groups to marry adolescent girls to old men, or to restrict women from driving, working outside the home, or having any access to birth control.

There are definite rights and wrongs in this book, and they are universal rights and wrongs for all of us. But there are also individual choices, mistakes, emotional decisions, misunderstandings, fear, and anger that make the messes we all must deal with.

While there is no “happy ending” to The Broken Half, there is hope.

And hope can only live where there is love.

I received an ARC from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Find it here on Amazon and here on Barnes & Noble.

Book Review: Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman

legacy of Kings“Legacy of Kings” is one of those amazing books that has it all: characters you love and hate, a gripping page-turner of a plot, and an effortless command of time and place. Basically, let’s just say I read it in six hours flat.

Herman gives us the stories of Kat, Jacob, Alex, Heph, Cyn, Zo, and Olympias. Each character gets their moment to tell their side of the story, and it makes their choices, heartaches, betrayals, and attractions much richer. We, the reader, are privy to the choices that set the characters up for misunderstanding, but also changes of heart. I found myself grinding my teeth in frustration at some points, wishing that Alex would ‘get’ why Cyn did certain things, and when Heph’s heart takes a little detour, I totally crowed “I knew it!” – but only because Herman had given me the clues all along the way.

And, not to give anything away, but I’m so torn between Team Heph and Team Jacob that I can’t even deal.

There’s an elegant simplicity that belies a high degree of complexity and skill in Herman’s writing. Her characters each start out with a clear goal, but she twists and turns these motivations in simple but excruciating ways so that where you end up at the end of the book is nowhere near where you started. But, she doesn’t beat the reader over the head with any of it. Her writing is one of the best examples of “Show Don’t Tell” that I’ve ever seen.

As for setting the story during the youth of Alexander the Great in Macedonia, I think it’s absolutely brilliant. Herman’s skill as a historian and raconteuse shines through in the nonchalant way she drops details of the daily lives of these ancient peoples. Nothing feels forced or pedantic. There is no history lesson to slog through. The way she integrates historical detail and puts her characters thoughts and actions accurately into that context is phenomenal, but what is truly extraordinary is the way she finds ways for us to relate to their similes, metaphors, and thoughts.

The dialogue is quick and trenchant, and there is nothing stilted or “ye olde” in the way her characters speak. Yet, there is also nothing anachronistic in their words or behavior either. That’s quite the feat.

I won’t go into all the ways my inner antiquities geek sploinked all over the place with her impeccable research and sly inside jokes and references. You don’t need a degree in Classics or Archaeology to enjoy this book. But, if you do know anything about the ancient Mediterranean, you’ll be giggling and hugging yourself all the way through.

My only complaint is the end, i.e. that it ended. I believe my exact words were: “Wait, no way! Seriously? You cannot just leave me there!”

Thus, like Patience on a monument, I must wait for the next book. Which might kill me…if Olympias doesn’t first.

I received an ARC of Legacy of Kings from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.