Thursday, October 11, 2012

Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel

I don’t know if Maria Semple should be praised or shot for inflicting this raucous, chaotic novel on the public. Not since reading Jennifer Belle’s,
The Seven Year Bitch have I came across such an annoying and bizarre cast of characters in a single piece of fiction.

Bernadette suddenly disappears two days before Christmas when her fed-up husband, Elgie tries to stage a psychiatric intervention and it’s left to Bee, her bratty, smart-ass daughter to discover if Bernadette may or may not be in Antarctica hiding out. The backtracking story is mainly told through letters, emails, text messages and a variety of memos. 

Warning: the characters constantly speak in air quotes and multiple exclamation points, so if that annoys you, watch out.

I found it very hard to identify with oh-so-very-eccentric Bernadette Fox and that’s saying a lot for me. To identify with a character in a book, I usually ask myself, ‘Would I be friends with this person in real life ?’. The answer in this case is a resounding, emphatic 'Hell fuckin' no' !

Bernadette is way too neurotic, paranoid, antisocial, talky and just downright batshit crazy for my taste. I came to think of her sort of as a female version of Woody Allen.The only person in this story I can even remotely identify with is Elgie, the geeky husband.

All in all, this book is extremely well written, often funny, witty and freakin’ brilliant. I’d be interested to read Marie Semple’s other novel, This One Is Mine just to see if she can write more likable characters.

Rating: 6.5

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Moonflower Vine

Have you ever read a book that was so profound that you wondered how you’ve managed to live your life without it thus far ? The Moonflower Vine turned out to be that book for me.

When this 1962 book was republished several years ago, it gathered new interest in Southern literature and a whole new group of fans (myself included). I usually like Southern literature from that era so I decided to give it try. Some of my happiest memories are me as teenager reading Carson McCullers, Truman Capote or even a Tennessee Williams play all curled up on my little twin bed.

This family saga of the Soames family takes place in Missouri (does that still qualify the story as Southern literature ?) between the 1890's and the early fifties. The story starts in the (then) present and in turn backtracks and chronicles each family member’s history up unto that point. The Moonflower Vine is a rather long, winding story sat in an idyllic, simpler world where edges were softer, words were kinder and time was marked by the blooming of flowers. At times it has a quaint Little House On The Prairie feel to it and at other times it gives off more of a steamy Cat On A Hot Tin Roof vibe. Odd, huh ? This story is also quite surprisingly sexually frank for it’s time. Callie's (the mother) sexual indiscretion with the traveling peddler in the forest toward the close of the book totally blind-sided me and made me repectfully give her a resounding: "You go, Girl !"

As I said, I loved this does take some patience and perseverance to get through it though (so, just chillax) and the author does occasionally go off on a long-winded tangent with a infinitely detailed account of a tree, rock or flower. It's made abundantly clear that the author was really was into nature.

This is surely destined to become a modern(ish) classic and you should read it. Why ? I have good taste in books, that’s why.

Rating: 8.0

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Trick or Treat

I really enjoyed this charming piece of Brit Chick Lit with a paranormal twist. After Lucy Diamond sees her first ghost on the tube one morning on the way to work, she promptly falls into a funny, deeply moving journey to discover her powers as a newly-minted spiritual medium with a very funny cast of characters.

As an American, I had a bit of a problem understanding much of the British slang and pop culture references made throughout the book. But perhaps this book wasn’t meant for American, Australian or Canadian readers ? I found myself wishing that I had an English BFF that I could call up and ask to explain certain phrases to me.

And to tell you the truth, I think if this book had been “cleaned up” a bit it would have lost most of it oh-so-very British charm and wouldn’t have been the lovely, atmospheric book that it was.

Highly recommended.

Rating: 9.0

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

So 5 Minutes Ago

This is one of those “girl-from-back-East-goes-to-Hollywood-and-makes-good” type of novels that I adore so much. I mean, come on... what are the chances that a middle-aged gay man from North Carolina would ever get to move to Hollywood and work with movie stars on a daily basis ? Answer that question and you'll see exactly why I live so vicariously through these types of books.

This is the story of Alex Davidson, a pretty, mid-thirties publicist that's working at a rather well-know agency that handles B celebrities (and former A celebrities whose careers have hit the skids). As you might imagine, this can lead to quite a few wacky adventures with the paranoid and extremely eccentric clients. There’s a client that obviously Matthew McConaughey (Troy Madden) and one that's obviously Cher (The Phoenix). Since the author was (is ?) a publicist in real life, I have to wonder if she did indeed have these people as clients at one time. Hmmm. 

With the help of her sassy gay assistant, no-nonsense best friend and The Phoenix, she finds herself involuntarily involved in some rather serious interoffice politics and has to take down the crooked Hollywood bigwigs that are about to put a lot of undeserving people out of work and besides it’s the right thing to do... Alex is a good girl and if she can correct some injustice, she will.

I liked this book and but wished the author had made it longer and fleshed it out a bit. Unfortunately, I was left feeling a little deflated at the end.

Rating: 8.0

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Clair de Lune

This is one review I’ve dreaded and looked forward to writing. My fear is that I won’t do it justice, won’t be able to impart even a glimmer of what this book is about to the future prospective readers.

Clair de Lune, Jetta Carleton’s last and thought to be lost (blown away in a 2003 tornado) novel finally came to print in 2012 and surely the world of literature is a better place for it. Click here for more information on the book’s fascinating back-story.

This is a leisurely slow read that plays out like a 1940's black and white film, extremely written and cinematic. If you’re looking for gritty, realistic Southern fiction like the works of Carson McCullers or Eudora Welty (as I was), you won’t find it in this book.

This is the story of Allen (short for Barbara Allen), a first year teacher in a new junior college in rural Missouri at the brink of WWII. Allen really wants to go to New York City and possible be a writer but she realizes she needs to work for a while to build up a nest egg first. Despite the fact that her heart really isn’t into her teaching position, she makes the most of it and soon becomes very popular with the students. Her favorites are two male students, George and Toby. They peg her for a kindred spirit and soon begin hanging out with her during their spare time away from school. It’s all innocent at first, just meeting at her apartment, listening to records and discussing literature but soon they graduate to prowling the town at night, playing hide and seek in the fog, drinking cheap beer and singing as they walk through the dark alleys. 

Allen and Toby begin a romantic relationship on the shy when George isn’t around and Allen blooms like a neglected, thirsty flower. It’s her first love and it’s every bit as thrilling as she’d hoped. After a period of time, the news gets back to the school board and the other teachers that Allen is not only seen fraternizing with male students after hours in sketchy locations throughout the town but also inviting them back to her apartment at night…

You might shrug your shoulders and say, “So what?” This book take place in 1940, that sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen back then. Female teachers really had to tow the line and lead a very pure and circumspect life. Unmarried women didn’t invite men into her house at night and certainly not teachers… but Allen did. Her friendship with George and Toby is something so dear to her heart that she just doesn’t understand how other people might view the situation in a darker light. The other teachers stop talking to her and begin excluded her from social events and worse of all, she loses George and Toby. What to do? Does Allen tuck her tail between her legs and begin to lead a proper life befitting a 1940’s schoolteacher or does she follow her heart?

 Rating: 7.0

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sleeping With Ward Cleaver

I’m going to be brave and confess something. I originally bought this book by the delightful Jenny Gardiner for the fun, kitschy cover art. I know, I know, not very scholarly, huh? I thought I was getting a light, fluffy chick lit book…you know, the sort of thing you’d read at the beach or around the pool.

But what you actually end up with is quite a serious novel about the real problems that most people that are married or in a long-term relationship face daily. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying this book isn’t funny…

I laughed through many parts of it but mainly I was very moved and touched because I could remember having many of the same problems as Claire (the main character) when I was in a long-term relationship.

I found myself rooting for her and wishing she'd either shit or get off the pot when it came to her marital issues. Claire dithers back and forth quite a bit when it comes to her husband problems (as most of us would). We’re torn when it comes to our spouses, right? You love your husband but sometimes you want to murder him in his sleep and making a run for the border. Come on, admit it, we've all thought about it.

So, how do you keep the everyday problems from effecting things in ol' boudoir ? Your spouse is bossy, doesn’t help around the house, bitches at you for spending too much money at the grocery store, gripes about the way you handle the children and then at bedtime has the nerve to brazenly try to get some nookie.

If you say,

“I don’t think so”


“I’m not in the mood”


“I have a headache”

He’ll pout and not speak to you for days or either he’ll call you a frigid bitch and you guys will get into an ugly shouting match that will surely wake the kids. So in the interest of peace, you just lie there and let him have his way with you, seething and silently counting the seconds till he finishes. Argh !

You’ll just have to read this book to behold the extreme measures Claire goes through to say her marriage and rekindle the flames.

Perhaps her husband, Jack isn’t such a bad guy after all? Perhaps he wants to change things just as much as Claire does but just hasn't a clue where to start...

I think we could all learn something from this book, I know I certainly did.

Rating: 7.5

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Grown Up Kind Of Pretty

Joshilyn Jackson can do no wrong in my eyes; in fact she’s one of my favorite modern Southern writers. Being a Southern myself, her characters always feel like neighbors I bump into at the Piggly Wiggly.

In this latest novel, you’ll find all the familiar themes present in her former novels such as lost innocence, secrets, child-molestation, dead bodies, drug use, white trash-ness, family and unconditional love.

This is the story of three generations of women living in the same house:

Jenny Slocumb (aka Big) 45-year-old grandmother

Liza Slocumb  (aka Liza Little) Big’s 30-year-old, ex-junkie, semi-mute, sexually generous daughter that recently just had a stroke.

Mosey Slocumb  Liza’s 15-year-old daughter and the light of Big’s life.

When Big decides to have an old tree in the yard removed, the bones of a long-dead baby are found when the stump is finally pulled from the ground while Mosey and her friend, Roger watch on from her tree house. Big recognizes the receiving blanket wrapped around the bones and immediately puts two and two together. Afterwards, Big and Mosey both separately go on different journeys to unravel Liza and the dead baby’s secrets (which isn’t easy since Liza’s post-stroke vocabulary is four words).

Rating: 8.5

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Goddess Of Fried Okra

This is one of those charming “road” novels, folks. Grieving over the loss of her big sister and believing that her sister will be reincarnated, Eudora Pea O’Brien decides to leave Texas and head to New Mexico where she believes her sister will be reborn.

One the way, Eudora picks up strays around every bend until her car is full and finally breaks down in the tiny town of Jewel after a night with Glory, the eccentric (and possibly repressed lesbian) owner of a gun shop on the outskirts of town.

The strays are:

Isis (Cat rescued from crummy convenience store)

Alex (Pregnant, goth teen-ager rescued from a truck stop)

Valentine (Good-looking, womanizing con artist that’s trying to go straight.  Pretends that Eudora has struck him with her car in order to get a free ride out of town)

In Jewel, while she waits several weeks for a part to come in so her old car can be fixed, Eudora takes a job at the local diner to pay for the part. The kindly, grandmotherly owner feels sorry for them and lets them move into her old RV parked in the backyard. The strays soon get involved with the town folks and get a taste of small town life, love, hate, bigotry, hard work and just what it means to be a family after a devastating fire nearly destroys them all at the end of the book.

I liked this book. A nice, light read and author Jean Brashear should be very proud to call this book her own.

Rating: 6.5