Monday, March 4, 2019

CBR11 #4:Pretending to Care - The Pretenders (Cemetery Girl #1) by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden

I wanted to like this, but...I just didn't. I don't know if it was too short, or whether it would have more appeal for a YA audience, but I was just kind of bored.

 Calexa Rose finds herself dumped in a graveyard, with no memory of her identity, and only the knowledge that someone tried to kill her. She can also see ghosts. She makes herself at home in the cemetery, trying to hide out from whomever tried to kill her, while attempting to find out who she is. She steals some stuff. She develops uncomfortable friendships with some old people. She spends a lot of time running around, leaping over stuff, and wearing a veil. One night, she witnesses a crime. Then she has to decide what to do about what she saw. Can she manage to see that justice is done without exposing herself? The antagonist characters are extremely one-dimensional, as well as kind of stupid. Their motivations don't really make any sense. And while this is in theory a ghost story, there was only one ghost, and even she was boring. How does a cemetery only have ONE restless ghost? Maybe the format doesn't allow for much expansion, and I should have waited for an omnibus, rather than reading this book as a stand-alone, but it did nothing for me. The art was fine, but nothing stunning or particularly unusual. I really like both Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden's other work, so this was a major disappointment.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

CBR11 #3 - Fat Girl Finishing School by Rachel Wiley

I need to preface this by saying I did really like Fat Girl Finishing School. Because I think my review is going to sound like I didn't, but that's not the case.

If I had found this book first, I'd probably be in love with it. Rachel Wiley's work is intense, personal, and her poems--specifically those about being a fat woman--strike a very strong chord with me. Unfortunately, I read Nothing is Okay first, which spoiled this a bit. In comparison, FGFS seems a bit unpolished. The poems are good, but seem to still be struggling with style. I didn't find them to be as strikingly specific. Some of them feel like very very good class assignments. They're great, but not not transcendent the way NIO is.

I'd recommend reading this, just because it does contain some real gems, and because I think it shows the clear progression and development that happened in between Fat Girl Finishing School and Nothing Is Okay.

Friday, January 18, 2019

CBR11 #2 - YES. THIS. -- Nothing is Okay by Rachel Wiley

I have a confession to make: I am a monster. No, not the kind who stampedes through Tokyo (though #goals) or the kind that lurks outside your window at night. I am dog-earer. I know, a shiver ran up the spine of book lovers everywhere--I could feel you all cringing. I know, it's a bad habit. But when I read (poetry especially) I like to be able to mark the page where I found something really striking, so I can double back and find it later. When it comes to my books, a turned down corner means "HERE! THERE'S SOMETHING IMPORTANT HERE!"

I'm telling you this dirty secret of mine so that you'll understand what it means when I say that by the time I got through Nothing Is Okay, nearly every other page had a bent corner. Some were bent over twice because there was something valuable to me on both sides of a single page.

I discovered Rachel Wiley after someone posted a video of her performing her poem "Ten Honest Thoughts On Being Loved By A Skinny Boy," and I knew immediately that I had to have more.

These poems are personal and specific, but speak to the broader experience of existing as a woman in today's society. They are by turns hilarious and heart-wrenching, sometimes both at the same time. I laughed out loud at many examples of her dating travails (as a fellow Tinderer, the Rejection Letter poems were a delight) and also cried when faced with "Letter to My Cat," knowing (because I follow her IG like a weirdo) that Clementine passed away last year. Wiley's turn of phrase makes every poem shine, and the way she opens up her own emotional wounds for inspection makes this book feel very intimate. It's a bottle of wine with the funny, empathetic, strong bestie we all wish we had. My absolute favorites were the poems which touched on existing as a fat woman in today's society. "Fat Joke" was a stiletto straight to my heart, and I want to staple a copy to the forehead of...everyone, pretty much.  I don't have the experiences to compare, but I imagine for those who identify as biracial and/or queer, there will be a lot of that same "YES. THIS. I KNOW THIS FEEL." with her poems which touch on those aspects of her life.

So to sum up: buy this book. Buy her other book, Fat Girl Finishing School (which I will be reviewing as soon as it arrives). Go see her perform if she's in your city. Tell your friends. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

CBR11 #1 - Writing Internally*: Salt by Nayyirah Waheed

Hi! Gonna try this Cannonball Read thing again. We'll see how it goes...

I received Salt by Nayyirah Waheed as a Christmas gift -- I'd never heard of her or of her poetry before, but I'm always happy to give contemporary poets a try.

There's very little information available online about Waheed herself - I tried to look her up in order to perhaps put her work into context -- but her poetry touches a lot on race, and how the world relates to Africa and Africans. There are some pretty hard-edged critiques about tourist culture, and also about the divide between Africans and African-Americans.

The poems that stuck resonated more for me were those that had to do with personal relationships -- the one in the attached photo in particular really hit me where I live.

However, I will say that as far as micro-poems go (that's what I call these), they're not really my favorites. I do sometimes enjoy the format, but frankly most of these were not evocative enough to really make me feel strongly about them. Many of them felt like stuff you jot down in your phone while riding the train, formatted in an "interesting" way, and then compiled. And while I'm sure the extremely stark design of the book would appeal to many people, it felt very empty to me.

Although a few of them were thought-provoking, I don't really feel like I got as much out of this as I'd like. This one is probably not going to win a place on my already tightly packed poetry shelf.

you were a writer 
you ever 
pen to paper.
just because you were not writing 
does not mean you were not writing
― Nayyirah Waheed

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

CBR9 #6: Crystal Flowers: Poems and a Libretto by Florine Stettheimer

I love traveling alone, and one of the things I like to do on my trips is go to museums. I just dig learning things I didn't know, I guess. The problem--when it comes to cities I've visited before--is that I have often already seen the better-known museums. And when it comes to New York City, I've worked my way through MOMA, the Met, the Museum of Natural History, the Guggenheim, and several of the other most well-known institutions. So this last time I visited, I decided to branch out and visit a couple I'd never heard of before.

One of the three museums I visited on my last trip was The Jewish Museum of New York City. Now before you ask, I'm not Jewish. But like I said, I enjoy learning things, and this museum just happened to be near the location of a theater where I was going to be seeing a show in the afternoon.

It was a Friday afternoon in August, and when I arrived, I was informed that due to renovations, only one exhibit would be open. I was disappointed, but it was very hot outside, and the cost to see this exhibit would be minimal, so why not?

The entire exhibit was dedicated to the art of Florine Stettheimer. Florine was born into a wealthy Jewish family in 1871. During her childhood, her father left the family, and once her two eldest siblings married, she was left to grow up with her mother and the other two youngest children, Carrie and Ettie. The four women traveled extensively, with Florine studying art both in the USA and abroad in Europe. Once they were adults, the Stettheimers became known in New York Society for holding a salon which was popular with modernist artists of the day. Marcel Duchamp, Gertrude Stein, and Gaston Lachaise were among the famous names who visited the Stettheimer home. Florine herself was a painter, though she refused to sell any of her art.

Wandering through the exhibit, I was delighted by Florine's work. She had a sense of whimsy and sly sarcasm that was clear among her group portraits and depictions of her New York social scene. But the thing that really caught my attention was her poems -- the museum had placed several of them on walls in among her paintings.

When I finally made my way to the gift shop, I discovered that they had a book of her collected poems for sale. Normally, I don't like to buy books at museums, because they're generally over-priced and annoying to carry around with me for the rest of my trip. However, this was a very slight volume, and a quick check of Amazon told me it would be cheaper to buy here and now. I continued to dither about it, until an unlikely lady named Ruth came over to start up a chat, and suggest to me that it was the universe that had brought me to this particular place at this particular time, perhaps even to buy this particular book!

There's really no arguing with that, is there?

Was I disappointed? Definitely not. Though it is a small book--poems collected and arranged by Florine's sister Ettie post-posthumously--there is quite a bit to see. Arranged by subjects, the breadth of Florine's opinions are on display. Some are deceptively simple (like the one above), many even child-like nursery rhymes with a sly undertone. Others hint at the societal conventions that couldn't be avoided during her time, even by a woman with the comparative freedom she enjoyed.

The thing I enjoyed most was the fact that I felt like I got to know the author a bit, and she was probably someone I would have liked a lot. Her sense of humor and passion for art would have made her someone who would be tremendously fun to know. In fact, I'm pretty sure we would be two of a kind.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

CBR9 #5 Borgin Keep by Ron Ripley

I've read the entire Berkeley Street series, as well as the Haunted series, and I think this was definitely one of the better offerings. This time, former Marine Shane and his slowly growing band of willing (and unwilling) ghost hunting allies face their biggest challenge yet. While the ghosts of Borgin Keep are both very dangerous and very evil, Shane also must keep one step ahead of The Watchers, a ruthless and powerful organization who find him to be a threat to their shadowy goals.

As always, for me the best part are the characters. Shane and his ghost-hunting partner Frank (a former soldier/former monk) are joined once again by police detective Marie LaFontaine, who is a very tough woman determined to avenge a dead friend. I'm not as fond of Shane's girlfriend Courtney, but I understand her uses as far as character development.

The plot moves along quickly, and I found this book a little better fleshed out than a few of the previous ones in the series -- while I enjoyed Lake Nutaq and Slater Mill, I also found them just the slightest bit procedural. Borgin Keep has raised the stakes for Shane and for his friends. 

I also enjoyed, as usual, the epilogue chapters which give some details about the history of the ghosts in house. Since my favorite part of most ghost stories are the researching bits wherein the heroes find out who the ghosts are and what motivates them, these bonus chapters are a real treat.
This is a great read, but definitely requires reading the rest of the series in order to understand it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

CBR9 #4: Missing People: Disturbing Stories From The Last 100 Years: People That Disappeared Without A Trace by Roger P. Mills

I am a big fan of true crime books, and normally I'm pretty forgiving about the occasional typo or incorrect word, but this book unfortunately didn't make up in content what it lacked in style.

The book covered what could have been interesting ground, including the missing Malaysian Air flight, the Sodder family fire, and several other disappearances from both recent times and the distant past. However, none of them were covered with any depth, and it seemed clear that the author did not do any of his own research. These were basically brief summaries of the cases, sometimes with the addition of bizarre conspiracy theories as to what may have happened to the missing people. 

In addition, I found the tone perhaps too conversational for the subject matter. While I don't mind a slightly less formal tone (M William Phelps's work comes to mind) I found this to be uneven and distracting. 

I would also agree with other reviewers who complained that this ebook was only about 60% Missing People, and about 40% previews for the author's other two books, one about Ouija Boards and one about Bigfoot. (I didn't read those, so I can't vouch for their quality.)

On the whole, I'd give this book a pass.

CBR11 #4:Pretending to Care - The Pretenders (Cemetery Girl #1) by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden

I wanted to like this, but...I just didn't. I don't know if it was too short, or whether it would have more appeal for a YA audience...