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Friday, April 26, 2013

Book Review: Why Unicorn Drinks

aaaand look what showed up at the library for yours truly?

And it certainly makes me feel better about my life...

Happy Friday, y'all!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

These Books Actually Exist part 1

Welcome to today's edition of "These Books Actually Exist" where we will be highlighting books that appear to be terribly written, terribly edited or are just plain "Who in god's name paid someone to write this???"

In part one of this fun new series, I will address two stellar tomes that were recently purchased at my library. So not only do these books exist, but they are actually on our library shelves.

First we have The Albino Album by Chavisa Woods

Lemme just give you the synopsis on the back cover of this novel:

"The Albino Album, a queer epic, follows the life of a little girl who accidentally feds her mother to an albino tiger and grows up to become a domestic terrorist." 
WTF???? Seriously?  How does one "accidentally" feed one's mother to a tiger???  Just fyi, "queer" actually means "gay" in this context.  Not "strange."  Moving on...
"Emerging author Chavisa Woods has been noted for capturing a "strange, troubling vision of domestic life in the rural U.S." (Go Magazine). Here she presents a technicolored vision of rural adolescence, the story of a girl with an unpronounceable name—a fiery, unhinged, growling, big-hearted country girl in a dirty black tutu and combat boots who travels along all the bizarre yet familiar byways of human desire from the cornfields of Louisiana and the big brass sound of Mardi Gras to the heights of the Empire State Building. Turning the tradition of the southern gothic novel on its head, Woods presents a new land of contemporary misfits including fire-dancers, pseudo-Nazis who breed albino animals, Catholic workers, horse thieves, and the archangel Gabrielle."

There's a sex scene on page 368 that has the following descriptions: "...sucked at it like a hungry babe." "...her face wet with me..." "...I took her body in my hands, pulled her toward me and kissed her glistening lips so joyously it could have been a song." "It went on for hours..."

Is this a bad romance novel?  Come on now... 

Here is the Goodreads Review from user Brett Axel: 
I'm hesitant to use labels like Southern, Poverty, Punk, Lesbian, or Anarchist, because while this book is all of these, they are not treated as gimmick or novelty. Chavisa has lived in these worlds with the keen observation of a cultural anthropologist and has the writing skill to bring it to life for a reader. I put this book on the same list with Tom Robbins, Chuck Palahniuk, and Irvine Welsh. Right now I am reading it for the second time, more slowly, to savor every phrase. 
The book has also been described as a queer Moby Dick- like epic.  I love that Chavisa is likened to a cultural anthropologist.  That is beyond funny.  I now have an image of a gay terrorist author who is feeding someone to a tiger.  Ridiculous.  I admit that I have not read this book cover to cover.  But what I did read did not even come close to Robbins or Palahnuik (Palahnuik would never write such a silly love scene.  That shiz is beneath him).  

Next up, The Milf Diet by Jessica Porter

So yeah.  This actually exists.  Someone wrote it.  Some publisher paid an "author" for it and my library got multiple requests for it.  As if I needed any more proof that society has completely come unraveled.  Again, I have only flipped through this book.  I have not read it cover to cover.  But here are several issues that make me scratch my head:

1.  The title vs. the subtitle of this book.  The MILF diet implies that if you go on this diet, you will be transformed into a MILF.  Oooookay.  The subtitle says "Let the power of whole foods transform your body, mind and spirit DELICIOUSLY!"  So I am to imply that 1. MILFs love whole foods and that 2. they are delicious.  Moving on.

2.  The title of chapter 1 of this book is "What is a MILF?"  paired with a photo of a pink flower.  Um... silly choice.  Either A. that is extremely generic photo art that "appeals to women" or B. Someone really likes Georgia O'Keeffe.  In addition to this, the book uses terms such as "MILFy" as in "How Does a MILF Stay MILFy?"  For reals.  Thus far, all of this has been included in the cover and first 3 pages.

3. Chapter 2 (Your MILFification, Phase One) begins:
"Remember when Alice fell down the rabbit hole?  When Neo chose the red pill over the blue one in The Matrix? Well, this is that moment for you, Ms. MILF.  It's time for you to start your great adventure.
You need to eat whole grains.  Whole grains will help you find your inner compass and bring you to balance.  And from there your journey will simply unfold quite intuitively...
You won't feel the amazing peace, steadiness and stupid happiness of whole grains until you chew them really well." (p. 22)
This is followed by a page and a half of CHEWING INSTRUCTIONS.  Chewing instructions, people!!!  The book says that you must chew your rice 50 times per mouthful.  And once you can handle that, you should aim for 100 times!  Isn't this some stupid diet fad that was debunked in like, the 1950s?  Unless the goal here is to make your jaw ache so badly that you can't actually stuff another forkful in there... Yes, we should all eat slowly so that we know when we are full so that we don't pig out.  But really?  Really.  So MILFs like hippy-dippy peace and love as well as The Matrix.  Seems legit.  So for all of you who aspire to MILF status, ya'll need this book.  Or something.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Is that some sort of alien technology in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Book Type: YA, sci-fi, alien invasion, dystopian thriller

Stereotype Alert: I was very afraid of the deadly YA love triangle but it never really surfaced.  Thank god!

Cover Art: Cool.  Only downside is that it only depicts one of our main characters.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Evan/Ben/Vosch 

Character Score: 6.5 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

X-Factor: Action packed

Stereotype Alert: Not so much.  It wasn't a typical YA novel, it wasn't your typical sci-fi or your typical dystopian book either.  Again, I was super scared there was going to be a love triangle between Cassie and Evan and Ben but that didn't happen.  *whew*

Cover Art: I like it.  Here we have Cassie at twilight- the only time when the Silencers don't come out.  If only it gave us a glance at Evan and Ben... but I guess this cover does capture the loneliness of life on earth after an alien invasion.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon:  Um, guys?  I'm going to confess something.  Evan may or may not be an alien (will Cassie ever find out for sure???) but he is super hot.  And even though I (Cassie) have longed to marry awesomely hot/popular Ben Parish my entire life, I would totally sleep with Evan.  What's that?  Ben hasn't been killed by aliens??? And he's been looking after my sweet kid brother?  OMG.  Future husband, how is it going?  But Commander Vosch is one sick freak and we need to put that guy down.  

Character Score:  The characters in this book were good.  But for me, this wasn't a book driven by the characters, it was one driven by insane alien killing(?) action.  I thought everyone was accessible etc. but because the POV changed around a lot, it was hard to really get all the way into one character's mind.  But again, this does not take away from the book in any way shape or form.

What's the Story?:  An alien race is attacking the earth in waves.  The first wave is an EMP that takes out all electricity on earth.  The second wave is a mega-tsunami which the aliens create by dropping a huge metal rod over a fault line in the ocean from waaaaaay far up; taking out islands and coastlines all over the world.  The third wave is a fatal disease carried by birds.  The fourth wave consists of highly trained alien snipers; what one of our protagonists, Cassie, calls "Silencers."  The aliens have killed off nearly all of the humans on earth and have succeeded in making the rest desperate and terrified.  But the humans who do survive all of these disasters aren't the weak ones.  

Cassie lives in the woods in a tent.  She has a backpack filled with a few provisions, a sleeping bag and her younger brother's stuffed teddy bear.  She watched her mother die from the bird plague.  She and her father and brother Sam made it to a sort of refugee camp only to have some army guys come in and take all of the children away on buses.  They promised they would come back for Cassie and all of the adults.  And they do.  But only to completely destroy the camp and everyone in it.  Cassie manages to escape aided by her father's quick thinking and then she is on the run.  She knows that the aliens have to have been studying humans for years, maybe even centuries.  She knows that they know that humans come together in groups during times of crisis.  And this is why Cassie must stay alone.  Being with others makes her a target.  And besides, she hasn't ever seen one of these aliens face-to-face.  What if they look just like humans?  

At some point here, we also meet Ben Parish who, during the course of making it to an army base has been renamed "Zombie."  Ben is a zombie for all intents and purposes.  He cannot forgive himself for leaving his kid sister to die like everyone else.  The army recruits him to be a badass alien killer and he throws himself into the job completely.  Anything so he doesn't have to think about Sissy.  When his commander adds a new recruit to his unit, a five-year-old named "Nugget," Ben takes responsibility for the scared little kid and creates a surrogate sibling.  And yes, Nugget would happen to be Cassie's brother Sam.  

After a nearly fatal gunshot wound to the knee from a Silencer, Cassie hobbles away only to pass out during a snowstorm.  She comes to expecting the afterlife but instead finding a cozy country house.  And a super hot guy who is nursing her back to health.  Here we meet Evan Walker: super hot farm boy who hunts, bakes bread, teaches Cassie how to shoot a gun and also lies about a lot of stuff.  But has dreamy chocolate colored eyes (OK, there's a bit of stereotype there).   Through various turns of events, it becomes clear that though Cassie has a LOT of reasons not to trust Evan, the two of them are stuck together in Cassie's plan to rescue Sam. 

X-Factor: Guys, this book deserves an award that combines Chuck Norris, a bunch of machine guns and a race car.  That is how fast-paced and action packed this book is.  

I was so excited to learn that Yancey was coming out with a new series.  I was even more psyched when I found out that our library had obtained an advanced copy.  It was so awesome!  People have been saying it and I will agree that this series is the new Hunger Games.  It will knock your socks off.  I already know that Yancey has what it takes to write a gritty YA novel because I LOVED The Monstrumologist.  Um, Victorian-era scientist who hunts/studies monsters and is filled with very graphic monster autopsy scenes??? Yeah.  Awesome.  

Do yourself a big favor and read this book!

The 5th Wave is available at all bookstores May 7th, 2013.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Someday, Someday, Maybe I'll Be an Actress

Book Review: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Book Type: fiction, actors, NYC, 90s, "I really need this job.  Oh God, I need this job. I've got to get this job!"

Stereotype Alert: A few things about the 'craft' that seem a bit stereotypical but it's all part of Franny's journey.

Cover Art:  Meh.  This book could be about anything, but it is clear that it takes place in New York City.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Stavros/Dan/James

Character Score: 7 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?:  Franny Banks is a struggling actress.  She's struggling to find an agent, struggling to pay her bills, struggling to get a real acting gig... but she's promised herself that she's not one of those people who is going to keep hanging on in New York long after it becomes obvious that she wasn't meant to be an actor.  So she has six more months left until the end of the three year deal she made with herself.  If something doesn't happen soon, it's time to find another career...

X-Factor: 90s nostalgia, Lorelai Gilmore flashbacks, Broadway!

Stereotype Alert: OK.  I will just say off the bat that when I saw this book in the box of new ARCs that came to the library, I was super skeptical.  I mean, I LOVED Gilmore Girls.  Lorelai Gilmore is probably one of my all-time favorite TV characters.  But Lauren Graham wrote a book?  Seriously?  What on earth does she know about books???? I mean, I'm sure she reads books but what qualifies her to write one?  This wasn't going to be one of those Tyra Banks/Hillary Duff things, was it?  Oh God!  But then I did a bit of research.  Turns out, Ms. Graham has a Bachelor's degree in English from Barnard College.    And this book is about acting.  So I put my concerns aside and started to read.  There are a few stereotypical things about acting and actors, but it was all part of Franny learning to be her own person and a better actor.  So for that (and the stereotypical movie plot mirror bit) I officially forgive you, Ms. Graham.

Cover Art: Well first of all, my ARC from Random House doesn't have the girl in a red coat on a bike on it.  But even after seeing this final cover, I'm still scratching my head.  I would have preferred some Broadway or cityscape lights.  I dunno.  The girl on the bike has NOTHING to do with this book.  Trust me, Franny would SOOOO not be biking across a bridge.  Like, ever.  Whatever. 

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Guess I should explain these choices.  Um.  Well. See, Franny is always talking about her acting teacher, John Stavros.  Apparently he is some super awesome actor and instructor.  I'm just going to take a leap and also assume that is is 1. Super famous. And 2. Super hot.  So there's pick number one.  Who wouldn't want to marry Dan?  Oh Dan.  You make me smile.  And James?  Ugh.  Franny should have kicked him to the curb as soon as they did that scene together for class.  You are the reason why people think that all actors are shitty human beings. Bleck.

Character Score: Loved them.  Love Dan.  Love Jane.  Lovelovelove Franny.  Loved Franny's Dad.  Seriously, a few of my favorite parts were his phone messages to Franny and this bit: "Also, one of my students says there's a show called Friends?  Apparently it's a popular one.  Maybe you should try to apply for that."  LOL.  "Apply for that."  That is classic.  Good character choices overall.

What's the Story?:  Franny Banks has always wanted to be an actor.  After college, she packed up her things and moved to New York; giving herself three years to make significant strides in her acting career.  Now it's 1995 and the three year mark is looming. But it's taken Franny practically that long to get a decent waitressing gig at a comedy club and to get into a top-notch acting class. All she has to show for her hard work is a terrible commercial for Christmas sweaters and a contact at an agency who only sends her to auditions for commercials.  Franny's best hope is the showcase that her acting class is putting together.  There will be real agents in attendance and Franny hopes that if she does really well, this will be the big break she has been hoping for.  But then she falls in the middle of a monologue and, worse yet, maybe flashes the audience.  However, when Franny goes to Stavros afterwards for notes, he tells her that two different people were interested in her.  Two!  Franny immediately calls the prospective agents and sets up meetings.  

Barney Sparks of the Sparks Agency is a nice, if not older, agent running a one man talent agency.  He and Franny hit it off right away but Franny decides that she should at least meet the other agent before signing any official paperwork.  Then Franny arrives at Absolute Agency- one of the best groups in town.  She is immediately impressed by the big, shiny offices and the rather official Joe Melville. When Melville casually suggests that Franny go around the corner to a casting session, all thoughts of poor Barney immediately vanish.  

Franny learns a lot about acting during the course of the book.  Graham really pits her against a lot of different types of actors and you can see that though Franny is very talented, she is constantly floundering because she feels that she is missing something that everyone else has.  She has to work herself through many no's before she gets any yes's.  She has to decide what is most important about acting and what the craft means to her.  For example: will she appear topless for a few mere seconds in order to land a movie role?  Will she read each script as she thinks the casting directors want to hear it or will she take chances to let her own abilities shine through?  

Someday, Someday, Maybe was a delightful book.  That is not to say that it was fluffy and light, but the book itself made me feel warm and satisfied after reading it.  Lauren Graham has created a fun romp through the life of an actress during the mid-90s and it is obvious that she had a lot of fun doing it.

X-Factor: I Love the 90s!  The scrunchies!  The Macarena!  The rollerblades!  While these things didn't overwhelm the book, they were certainly fun.


Is that you, Lorelai Gilmore?  Ok.  At first I had a REALLY hard time not projecting Lorelai into every single thing that Franny did.  Sure, she's klutzy and unorganized like Lorelai, but the similarities stop there.  I promise, Ms Graham, that I will reread the final copy of this book and put all thoughts of Lorelai out of my head.


Broadway, baby!  Oh how I sort of still wish I'd gone to New York so I could be on Broadway.  It's funny, but I could totally see myself in a lot of the things that Franny said and did.  Minus the smoking.  Obviously that wouldn't have helped my career in musicals :)  

Someday, Someday, Maybe is available from Ballantine Books at all fine bookstores as of April 30th, 2013.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Blast From My Musical Past OR Why You Should Watch Off Pitch on VH1

So Easter dinner at my house pretty much went like this:

Mom: You know that reality TV show that Rob is on is starting soon.

Me: I know.  We've been talking about this for almost a year now.

Ian: VH1 has, like, a four minute trailer up on its website.

Me: Well, put it up on the TV.

(Four minutes of singing/dancing/crying/drama fills the screen)

Me (laughing hysterically): Oh man!  Where was I when these auditions took place?  I wasn't even living in Wisconsin at the time but I totally would have driven up here!  I mean, surely VH1 would LOVE the added drama of having one of Rob's past students in the group!  Dude, I wonder when the auditions for Season Two are? AHAHAHAHA!  I am SO going!

And scene.

Lemme 'splain a bit for those of you who have no idea what I am talking about.

All my life (yes really, all my life- I started in about 4th grade) I've been obsessed with Show Choir.  My local high school had a really good group and I would always participate in their Show Choir camps for kids.  Even on the years when they didn't have the camps, my mother would buy us tickets and we'd go eat Spaghetti in the high school cafeteria and then watch the annual MHS Pops-n-Pasta concert.  It was magical.  There were concert choirs, women's choirs, jazz choirs and of course, the Rhythm Express SHOW CHOIR.  The costumes! The props!  The singing! The glitter!  I would have given my left arm at the age of ten to be up on that stage.

A huge part of why our school's group was so good had to do with the choreographer, Rob Jones.  Well that, and all of us having our music memorized before Rob showed up each spring.  At any rate, Rob was an MHS graduate who worked for Disney for years as a singer/dancer/actor.  And every year, he would drag himself back to the (what I'm sure for him was a) hellhole that is Mendota, Illinois in order to choreograph our Show Choir show.

Fast forward five years and you have me in one of my first auditions.  "Relax," I tell myself.  "You've been doing this for a while.  It's the same as at the camps.  Plus, you made the dance squad!  Surely ADA camp and all of those practices will pay off in super dance skills!"  (HAHAHAHA! Yeah right! Laughs future me.)  But there's Rob sitting right next to Mrs. Schrock, the choir director.  He's so awesome!  And a bit scary.  But he's a real performer!  And also the most beautiful gay man I've ever met...

Rob as I knew him when I was in high school
Just dance and sing, Natalie.

And I did.  I made the group as a Freshman which was quite the feat for a tiny little soprano.  I was so excited!!!!  I spent the spring of each year in high school singing and dancing like mad and loving every drama filled, Rob-screaming minute of it.  These are still some of my best high school memories with friends to this day.  

I looked up to Rob.  I wanted to BE Rob.  I wanted to finish college and run off and sing and dance on a cruise ship like Rob had done.  I wanted to go and work at Disney (but only if I could be a mermaid).  At one point, Rob even let me house/dog sit for him.  Now god bless Rob, but what he was thinking letting teenage me (who, as the saying goes, didn't know her ass from a hole in the ground) take care of his lovely apartment filled with EXPENSIVE antiques and tiny dogs???  Oh Rob.

Fast forward to now.  Mr. Robert Jones is going to be staring in a new reality show on VH1 called Off Pitch.  The show is all about he and his partner and the fabulous adult show choir that they direct in LaCrosse, Wisconsin called the Grand River Singers.  I am going to assume that VH1 thought it would be awesome to make a "real life" version of Glee and so they approached Rob and Tim about Off Pitch.  I cannot wait to see this. There will be a blog post analyzing each episode.  The drama, the jazz hands, the still familiar choreography, the sequins...

Speaking of sequins, before we got new costumes my junior year of high school, we were wearing these lovely numbers:

Sorry guys, this was the best photo I could find... can you find me?

Yes.  Those are super flowy skirts that fly out wide when you twirl (there were matching royal blue bloomers to go with).  And yes, those are silver beaded shooting star patches on our shoulders.  And YES.  Those are horrible, awful, PAINFUL elastic sequin cuffs that all of the girls had to wear that made your forearms look like you'd gotten a really bad sunburn after you removed them.  Awesome.

And while we're talking about awesomely awful costumes, let us not forget the black satin 80s concert dresses that all women in any band or choir at MHS had to wear:

Too bad those dresses are so can't even see how cute we are!


I don't know when MHS acquired those sad satin nightmares, but if they are still in use, that's got to be some form of torture.  Gross.  I am, however, very proud to know all of the ladies in that photo- two of whom went on to work at Disney professionally :)

Ok. Ok.  So why in God's name should you care about some gay guy I knew and the fact that he's on TV?  It will be drama of the highest order.  There will be dancing and singing.  There will be fighting and screaming.  And Rob will be doing what he does best: making people CRY.  It will be PERFECT for drinking games of any and all kinds.  Seriously guys, this is going to be one awesome hot mess of a show!

Off Pitch premieres Wednesday, April 17th at 10/9c on VH1 (though I believe they have the first episode online here ).

Friday, April 12, 2013

Three Things: Badass Ultimate Deathmatch, Insane City, Hallucinations

I want to feature three new items from my library each week.  I'm hoping to mix it up into a really strange combination of things each time.  Now, these can't technically be called "reviews" as I haven't read any of these items.  They just sound really cool. 

Today's Three Things:

First up, Badass Ultimate Deathmatch by Ben Thompson.  This book looks AWESOME!!!! I just checked it out and have only finished the first few entries.  Basically, if you like epic battles and badassery, this book is for you. Here is a fun exerpt:
"The Battle of Thymbra is the terrible true story of how a devastating one-two dickpunch of face-eviscerating scythed war chariots and hilariously pissed-off camels helped the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great forge the biggest and most powerful empire in the ancient world."
And it continues on in that fashion describing crazy epic battles  for the entire book.  Awesome.  Thompson has also written two other works of badassery: Badass and Badass: The Birth of a Legend.  Also, his author photo is him punching a giant great white in the face so that's pretty badass too.

Next we have Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks.  Now, I've only read bits and pieces of Sacks' books; his most famous arguably being Musicophilia and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.  Sacks is a neurologist and his books are always about strange neurological disorders written with a literary style.  Sacks is also a mad scientist of sorts who is not above self experimentation in order to do research.

His newest, Hallucinations, is about people seeing, hearing, and smelling things that are not there.  Crazy people, sane people, people who seek visions via substances, etc.  Sacks dabbled in these experiences himself in the 1960s and has this to say as way of an introduction: 
"Many people experiment with drugs, hallucinogenic and otherwise, in their teenage or college years.  I did not try them myself until I was thirty and a neurology resident.  This long virginity was not due to lack of interest." 
I would not be able to read what basically amounts to a medical text written by anyone else but Sacks.  His books are filled with bizarre and varied accounts about many quirks of the human neurological system.  I can't wait to read it. 

Finally, we have Insane City by Dave Barry.  Why a novel by Dave Barry?  Um because he is "one of the funniest writers alive."  So sayeth another funny author, Carl Hiaasen.  But really.  If you've ever read his news articles or any of his books, fiction or otherwise, you already know this.  There will be at least two instances of snort-inducing laughter per book.  I think that should be a guarantee that Barry puts on the cover of his books: "Guaranteed to make you snort with laughter at least twice or your money back!"  Seriously Dave Barry, get on that.

At any rate, Barry's third novel stars average Joe Seth who is getting ready to marry the rich, gorgeous and successful Tina.  Seth just has to show up and say "I do" but since this is a Barry novel, there are lots of other plots and hijinks that make this less than simple.  Filled with an assortment of wacky characters, Insane CIty has been described as part Hangover plus part Miami Vice. Again, I have not had the pleasure of reading this yet, but I can only assume that since it is Dave Barry, it will be hilarious.  

Here is a random quote about a cake: 
"The food came in courses, each more delicious than the last.  FInally, when everyone was stuffed, it was time for the serving of the Groom's Cake.  The Groom's Cake is allegedly an old Southern wedding tradition that nobody ever heard of until about five years ago when the wedding industry, always on the lookout for ways to make weddings more expensive, started hyping it.  The idea is to have a special cake just for the groom, reflecting some special thing about him.  Tina had commissioned a high-end New York cake designer to produce a cake shaped like a football, sporting the logo of the New York Giants and and amazingly lifelike portrait, in frosting, of Eli Manning."  
 In addition to this, uh, wonderful Groom's Cake, Seth's parents accidentally leave out a container of special brownies at the rehearsal dinner.  So that's gotta be great.

There you go.  Three completely unrelated, yet awesome books that you should probably go read.  Happy Friday!!!!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

I Remember: 68th Anniversary

I began today realizing that it was an important anniversary: my parents were celebrating 31 years of marriage.  Bully for them.  What I didn't realize until partway through today was that it was also the 68th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp.  

Situated just a few miles from the city of Weimar, Buchenwald was first used to house male prisoners in 1937. Following Kristallnacht in 1938, nearly 10,000 Jewish men were sent to the camp.  In 1941, the Nazis started performing involuntary medical experiments on the prisoners.  One procedure was even claimed to cure homosexuality. 

Once the war was in force, Buchenwald and other concentration camps became an important source of forced labor.  Prisoners worked in munition factories, quarries and freight yards among other places.  They were tortured.  They were starved.  They were hung, shot and burned.  There were nearly 110,00 prisoners at Buchenwald when the camp was liberated on April 11th, 1945.  And countless hundreds had lost their lives inside the barbed-wire trimmed walls.  

This past Monday, April 8th, was Holocaust Remembrance Day.  I marked the day and remembered.  I remember as an eighth grader reading The Diary of Anne Frank and then visiting the United States National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.  I remember being so flooded with literature and history units that year that my entire class was nearly completely desensitized.  The images on the walls of the museum were moving, but I could do no more than walk past them, staring blankly. 

Holocaust Memorial Berlin, Germany

 I remember walking through the gates of Buchenwald as a college student, past the wrought iron that read "jedem das seine" and thinking "'To each his own.'  To each his own...what?  Misery? Faith? Hope? Life?  Death?"  Why didn't this gate lie like so many of the others; taunting prisoners by telling them that their hard work would set them free?  I remember the way they had knocked down several sets of barracks, marked their foundations and then filled each one with a different type of gravel. I remember the ovens that still stood in one of the buildings.  I remember standing out in the yard of the camp, and how silent it was.  The entire camp was surrounded by forest but it was as if the trees didn't move.  I remember how the dangling earrings I'd worn that day made more noise than anything else outside as I walked.  I put them in my pocket instead.

I remember hearing about General Patton and how irate he was that the people of Weimar ignored the unjust and inhumane presence of this camp.  He simply could not conceive that those people could not know.  He trooped hundreds of them through the gate and showed them the people they had turned their backs on.  I feel like I know how Patton felt, in a way.  That complete sense of bewilderment that comes when you think about crematoriums and months and months of constant starvation and abuse. The rage mixed with a silent, numbing sensation that seems to shut down all other thoughts.   How could human beings do such a thing to a living being?  How could they not care?  How could they carry out these insane orders and continue to laugh and eat and live?  How does treating humans like animals solve anything?  Why is it necessary to debase your prisoners to the point of complete physical and psychological ruin?  How did Elie Wiesel or any of the prisoners at Buchenwald survive long enough to be liberated?  

If nothing else, remember.  Remember the people who died and the people who suffered and lived.  Remember the horrible and inhumane lengths that humans took to control other humans.  Remember.  But do not forget.

Both the Jewish Virtual Library and the Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team have very informative websites if you are interested.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Happy Wednesday, here's some links.

I hate Wednesdays, guys.  Hate them.  I don't know why.  There's just something about them: they go badly, I have a series of really difficult patrons right in a row, I tend to get migraines or start getting sick... whatever.

Here are some fun things to keep you going through your Wednesday:  

The new Great Gatsby movie is coming!  Curious what Fitzgerald thought of the 1926 film version?:

This fun article from fantastic author Cory Doctorow about DRM and protected electronic files:

Um, a Clarissa Explains It All novel???? Yes, please!

What would happen if you made Downton Abbey into an SNES video game:

Guys, it's been 20 years since The Sandlot came out!  By far, one of the greatest kid classics.  Here are 20 things you may not have known about this great film:

This isn't new by any means, but you can smell like a character/place from Neil Gaiman's books!  Really.  My vote is for the Door perfume:

Monday, April 8, 2013

Loose Lips Sink Ships

Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Book Type: fiction, YA, WWII England, girls helping the war effort, spies, pilots

Predictability Factor: Um, no.  We don't even know who wins the war.

Cover Art: Hold on!!!! 

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Jamie, Maddie, von Linden/ Etienne Thibaut

Character Score: 8 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: YA novel set in WWII England/France where two best friends work for the war effort in very different (or are they?) capacities.

X-Factor: English-ness, SUPER FRIENDS

Predictability Factor: Not in this book.  The whole time you're wondering who is dead and who could potentially die in the near future.  Nail-biter for sure.

Cover Art: I get the two hands tied together.  These two friends have a bond stronger than any I've ever witnessed in real life.  Nothing can tear them apart.  Not plane crashes, being tortured by Nazis, or even being bombed by the Royal Air Force.  NOTHING.  Makes for a stark cover, but not all that interesting or pertinent to the book.  Whatever.  It's what's inside that counts here, folks.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Oh Jamie.  You seem like such a jaunty English (erm, Scottish) chap.  Even when you got stuck out in the ocean and had to have a bunch of fingers and toes amputated you're still charming and sexy.  Maddie.  Maddie, Maddie, Maddie.  I can't wait for you to grow into a confident woman pilot who finds a handsome rogue of a husband.  Perhaps Jamie... von Linden and Etienne? Those bitches have got to go.  But not before I get a chance to burn them with metal and wash their mouths out with acid.  An eye for an eye and all that

Character Score: OMG.  I just want to cry I love you all so much.  Also, there's no possibility of a sequel so I am even more distraught.  Oh Verity.  You are so freaking snarky and sarcastic and a FABULOUS actress.  We would be BFFs in real life for sure.  Maddie, oh Maddie.  I love you.  Charles Dickens who?  It is quite possible that Elizabeth Wein just created my new favorite characters in all of literature.

What's the Story?: The first part of the book is told from Verity's point of view.   She is an English (well, actually Scottish) spy who has been caught after just parachuting into France (she looked the wrong way when she attempted to cross the street which, if I were a spy, is EXACTLY how I would get nabbed).    She is being held in a secret Gestapo headquarters and is, of course, tortured and forced to tell the Germans everything that she knows: wireless code sets, names of airplanes, air fields, commanding officers etc.  She writes everything down for officer von Linden and though she feels that the more she writes, the longer her life may be (hours, days longer?), her thoughts continually go back to her best friend. Verity's account of how she ended up in France is more of a memoir and a story of her friendship with the awesome female pilot, Maddie and less of a collection of English military secrets.  Her story jumps around a lot, but you really get a great picture of these two girls who are trying to help the war effort and how their friendship strengthens into the stuff of legends as time goes by.  

The second part of the book is told by Maddie.  She can't stop thinking of Verity. For nearly the whole book, poor Verity is convinced that Maddie has died in a horrible plane crash and poor Maddie is convinced that Verity has been shot by the Germans.  Will Verity really be killed by the Nazis?  Will Maddie perish in a terrible plane crash?  There are so many awesome twists and turns to this book that I simply CANNOT give you any more specific plot points because I don't want to ruin it for you.  But trust me, READ THIS BOOK!!!!

X-Factor: Englishness.  

Seriously, y'all.  It's like Downton Abbey times 100.  With more airplanes. And also spies.  

Also, Verity and Maddie deserve the SUPER FRIENDS award.  

Guys, they are true kindred spirits if ever such a thing existed.  Maddie proves that she is the ultimate friend by doing some pretty amazing things and I only wish that there could be years and years full of more Verity/Maddie adventures.  

ReadthisbookReadthisbookReadthisbook.  That is all.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Unicorn Being a Jerk by C.W. Moss

Book Type: "graphic novel", picture book for adults

Predictability Factor: Other than the title predicting that Unicorn is a jerk, no.

Cover Art: Look at all these fabulous pictures of ME!

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Does not apply.  I am drawing the line at sex with animals (even awesome imaginary ones with rainbow horns).

Character Score: Negative 20 Mr. Micawbers- he is SUCH a jerk!

What's the Story?: Unicorn is a big, fat JERK!

X-Factor: Picture books for grown-ups. 

This book was the perfect thing to jump-start my Friday.  When I saw a while back that a book titled Why Unicorn Drinks was coming out, I immediately thought: What a fabulous title, I have to read that!  Then I realized that there was a previous Unicorn book called Unicorn Being a Jerk so obviously I needed to read that one first.  Technically this book would probably be shelved with the graphic novels, but I like to think of this as a picture book for grown-ups.  Each two-page spread is filled with a drawing and description of Unicorn doing some jerk-y thing.  Such as:

Bringing a guitar to a party.

Or my personal favorite: 

Tearing out the last page of a library book.

His exploits range from the annoying (ignoring the item limit sign in the express line at the grocery store) to the extreme and sometimes downright crass (smoking in a car that contains a pregnant woman).  Moss's delightful watercolor pictures  will have you chuckling before you know it.  

Happy Friday, Y'all!  

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

You again? Or: A Review of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Book Type: British fiction, Groundhog Day, haven't I been here before?

Predictability Factor: Well, sort of.  

Cover Art: Well... No to the American cover (creepy roses?), yes to both UK covers (snow/fox).  

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: pre-war George Glover, Teddy and Howie/Derek.

Character Score: 6.5 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers.

What's the Story?: Ursula Todd is born and dies.  Over and over again.  Perhaps she can change her future or the future of others if she could just figure out how...

X-Factor: Um, can I have a do-over?

US Edition

UK Edition

Another UK Edition or paperback version?

Predictability Factor: In the fact that other people have written story lines where characters keep dying and coming back to correct their mistakes.  But the similarities end there.

Cover Art: Honestly hate the American cover.  Has next to nothing to do with the book.  I much prefer the UK edition where there is a bunch of snow (there is a snowstorm the night Ursula is born and um, reborn) and a mysterious doorway.  This catches the mood of the book much more than the roses which, I have to say, make this book look like a murder mystery (which it is NOT).  The last cover is also fine since there is A. snow and B. a fox (the home where Ursula grows up is called Fox Corner and there are foxes running about).  So there's my very scientific analysis of the various versions of cover art.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Well, the pre-war description of George Glover sounds like a harlequin description of a cowboy or ranch hand.  That's about as nice a description of a man as we're going to get in this book.  I'll take it.  Teddy, the second Todd brother, just seems so awesome.  Who wouldn't want marry that guy?  But Howie?  Seriously.  What the hell is wrong with you?  Not sure what psychiatric term fits the bill but you are really messed up.  Ditto on Mr. Derek Oliphant.  What a terrible, terrible creep.

Character Score: Atkinson does a good job of giving you the thoughts of many of the characters in this strange novel.  What I love most, I think, is that Ursula seems to be a completely different person/personality each time she is reborn.  Made for a very interesting read.

What's the Story?: Ursula Todd is born early on a snowy morning in February 1910 to a banker and his wife in a charming English home named Fox Corner. Or rather, Ursula is delivered still-born and then is promptly born again on a snowy morning in February of 1910.  Thus begin the lives of Ursula who finds new challenges in each life that she lives including: two world wars, death by drowning, almost being asphyxiated by a cat (and her older brother), sexual assault, death by falling off of a roof, an attempt on Hitler's life, domestic abuse, a creepy typing instructor, an illegal abortion, and multiple deaths by Spanish Flu (Four times.  Four!).  The two sections of the book that are probably the most interesting are the depictions of war time with Ursula as a child whose father has gone to fight in WWI and then as an adult who has joined a rescue unit for civilians during the blitz.  Ursula has extraordinary feelings of deja vu and in most instances these help her to find away around some sort of potentially traumatic event.  But figments of lives past and the daily life of the present become entwined in a way which is hellish for poor Ursula.  At one point, Ursula ends up in a private clinic and tries her best to explain in as banal a way as possible: 
"Time isn't circular," she said to Dr. Kellet.  "It's like a...palimpsest." 
"Oh dear," he said. "That sounds very vexing."
The reader is never really sure if Ursula's lives will end or if she solves all of the problems that she is meant to.  But that is the way of things, in this book.  The layers of experience never really end.  

It is hard to tell you a lot about this novel.  A lot of critics have been describing this book as Groundhog Day meets The Butterfly Effect or Cloud Atlas.  But this book is more than that.  Though we see Ursula born time and time again, she is a different personality, has different knowledge and different actions.  We see the ways in which her family members differ (no matter how slightly) life after life.  We see that no matter how hard Ursula works or tries to remedy a situation that life never turns out the way one plans.  I would highly recommend Life After Life to readers who enjoy an interesting non-linear style plot line or have enjoyed Atkinson's other novels.

X-Factor: Who hasn't wanted a do-over at some point in life? This book is like your wish being granted by the devil and then he "forgets" to tell you that this is the result of your wish.  So the general rules of thumb when wishing something should be: 1. No wishing for more wishes.  2. Don't make a wish at the same time as your mom. 3. BE VERY SPECIFIC!

Life After Life is available in all fine US bookstores as of today.  I received my advanced copy via NetGalley.

Happy reading, folks.