Friday, December 31, 2010

Swagger Song

I've written before about a good swagger song--you know that song that comes on while you're walking to work and suddenly you're more wide awake, you're picking up your pace, singing along in your head, maybe even winning grammys.

It's the kind of song that's as good as a cup of coffee in the morning. Well, I found another one of those least for me.

As you know I'm a total Gleek and a few weeks ago the show featured Gwyneth Paltrow as a hip, new substitute teacher. Better yet, they sang a version Cee Lo and let's just say I'm totally ADDICTED!

Enjoy! Hopefully this will help you get dancing and ready to ring in the New Year!

Have you discovered any new swagger songs?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Title Love

I apologize for a few less blog posts than usual over the last week or so. I have been traveling for the holidays and expected to have more computer access than I had.

But now I'm back to business as usual with an installment of "title love." These books include some seriously fabulous titles that are sure to peak your interest.

1. Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielson

Here's the description:
Violet's TV-director dad has traded a job in Vancouver for one in Los Angeles, their run-down house for a sleek ranch-style home complete with a pool, and, worst of all, Violet's mother for a trophy wife, a blonde actress named Jennica. Violet's younger sister reacts by bed-wetting, and her mother ping-pongs from one loser to another, searching for love. As for Violet, she gets angry in ways that are by turns infuriating, shocking, and hilarious.

When her mother takes up with the unfortunately named Dudley Wiener, Violet and her friend Phoebe decide that they need to take control. If Violet's mom can't pick a decent man herself, they will help her snag George Clooney.

My take:
I previously discussed Theo Nestor's How to Sleep Alone in a King Size Bed as a title I love. This book is, in some ways, the ying to that yang or vice versa. Nestor's book discussed the emotional trials of woman/mother/wife going through divorce while Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom chronicles a young girl's struggles through her parents' divorce and her mom's mid-life crisis all while dealing with the normal adolescent angst of young adulthood.

The title is really fun as is the George Clooney weave-in in the storyline. More deeply, it reminds us of that cusp of time of being both naive and having our naivete stripped away.

2. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Here's the description:
On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

My take:
When I saw this book in the bookstore I had to pick it up. The name was quirky and intriguing plus the cool cover of a delicious piece of cake with a shadow of a person gave a seemingly innocent cover an edge to it.

3. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt also by Aimee Bender

Here's the description:
A grief-stricken librarian decides to have sex with every man who enters her library. A half-mad, unbearably beautiful heiress follows a strange man home, seeking total sexual abandon: He only wants to watch game shows. A woman falls in love with a hunchback; when his deformity turns out to be a prosthesis, she leaves him. A wife whose husband has just returned from the war struggles with the heartrending question: Can she still love a man who has no lips?

Aimee Bender's stories portray a world twisted on its axis, a place of unconvention that resembles nothing so much as real life, in all its grotesque, beautiful glory. From the first line of each tale she lets us know she is telling a story, but the moral is never quite what we expect. Bender's prose is glorious: musical and colloquial, inimitable, and heartrending.

My take:
I just stumbled across this book and it's definitely on my "to be read" list. It's rocking 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads and I just have such a soft spot for witty titles that make you do a double-take in the store.

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Here's a review:
What is most notable about this funny, touching, memorable first novel from Stephen Chbosky is the resounding accuracy with which the author captures the voice of a boy teetering on the brink of adulthood. Charlie is a freshman. And while's he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. He's a wallflower--shy and introspective, and intelligent beyond his years, if not very savvy in the social arts. We learn about Charlie through the letters he writes to someone of undisclosed name, age, and gender, a stylistic technique that adds to the heart-wrenching earnestness saturating this teen's story. Charlie encounters the same struggles that many kids face in high school--how to make friends, the intensity of a crush, family tensions, a first relationship, exploring sexuality, experimenting with drugs--but he must also deal with his best friend's recent suicide. Charlie's letters take on the intimate feel of a journal as he shares his day-to-day thoughts and feelings:

I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they're here. If they like their jobs. Or us. And I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It's like looking at all the students and wondering who's had their heart broken that day, and how they are able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report due on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why.

With the help of a teacher who recognizes his wisdom and intuition, and his two friends, seniors Samantha and Patrick, Charlie mostly manages to avoid the depression he feels creeping up like kudzu. When it all becomes too much, after a shocking realization about his beloved late Aunt Helen, Charlie retreats from reality for awhile. But he makes it back in due time, ready to face his sophomore year and all that it may bring. Charlie, sincerely searching for that feeling of "being infinite," is a kindred spirit to the generation that's been slapped with the label X.

My take:
A blog I follow and which I highly recommend to you is Confessions From Suite 500, written by a group of young literary agents. This book had previously slipped under my radar until I read this very moving post they wrote about it.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower seems to counter the belief--or even pressure--to be outgoing and noticed and notable. It tells us a little about the main character and about their perspective. It's intriguing and evocative.

What great titles have you seen lately?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Real Life "Walk to Remember"

I'm a sucker for contemporary fiction especially if there's a love story so it should come as no surprise that I've read my fair share of Nicholas Sparks. One book that really stood out to me was A Walk to Remember.

At the time it was Sparks' first foray into "YA." I don't believe it was formally catalogued as young adult but in my opinion it could have been and it certainly was his first novel with such a young main character.

First book cover:

Book cover after movie premiere:

If you're unfamiliar with it, here's a brief summary:

Every April, when the wind blows from the sea and mingles with the scent of lilacs, Landon Carter remembers his last year at Beaufort High. Landon had already dated a girl or two. He even swore that he had once been in love. Certainly the last person in town he thought he'd fall for was Jamie Sullivan, the daughter of the town's Baptist minister. A quiet girl who always carried a Bible with her schoolbooks, Jamie seemed content living in a world apart from the other teens. She took care of her widowed father, rescued hurt animals, and helped out at the local orphanage. No boy had ever asked her out. Landon would never have dreamed of it. Then a twist of fate made Jamie his partner for the homecoming dance, and Landon Carter's life would never be the same. Being with Jamie would show him the depths of the human heart and lead him to a decision so stunning it would send him irrevocably on the road to manhood...

I appreciated this book because it broached the subject of peer pressure--something young adults know too well. And it coupled it with illness and transformation, something that's very difficult to discuss/accept/believe when you're young. That's because young people aren't supposed to get sick, but they do. In fact, this book was inspired by Sparks' late sister, a very religious girl who died young. Books that let young readers know they're not alone in their loss are, in my opinion, very necessary reading.

And yesterday, when I was catching up on the news I came across a real life Walk to Remember. It won't let me embed the video so you'll have to copy the link below. It's quite a testament to love and friendship. While I will warn that the video may make you cry (or at least choke up), it's also a beautiful example of the resilience young people have even at times of crises.

What books or movies have you seen that broached these topics?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Gifts

I love to give--and receive--great books, that's a given. It's not surprising that several people I have to get gifts for are, in fact, getting books among other things. This prompted me to create a shopping list for the holidays with my book recommendations for the various people in not only my life but yours.

For the boyfriend/husband: The Bourne Series by Robert Ludlum

For the single girl: Stay by Allie Larkin. An interview with the author can be found here.

For the single guy: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max (Note: The feminist in me strongly opposes this book and I debated including it but every single, youngish, guy I've met thinks this is just about the most hilarious book they've ever read and so it had to be included in this category.) I'm also including Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern, however, as the safer bet since it still has a snarky sense of humor but is more about family quirks and less about dating exploits. If the single guy is your older, loves-to-travel brother, however, then I might recommend Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks which is great and was read by me, both my brothers, and just about everyone else in my family.

For the teen girl: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

For the teen boy: You by Charles Benoit

For the 20somethingthing year old girl: The Last Summer (of You and Me) by Ann Brashares

For the 20something year old boy: See recommendations for the single guy

For the young child: Two Dumb Ducks by Maxwell Eaton III (This is a book by a fellow classmate that seems timely given all the anti-bullying messages right now plus it's super cute.)

For the Mother: The Help by Kathrynn Stockett

For the Father: Freedom by Jonathan Frazen or The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein or The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (I couldn't decide between the literary dad, the family guy, or the addicted to CSI dad so I offered up three choices here.)

For the traveler: McCarthy's Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland by Pete McCarthy

For the quirky aunt or uncle: Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Am I leaving anything off the list? What books are you hoping to get or planning to give this holiday season?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Clubbing It

I joined a book club recently and I love it! (*nerd warning*) I've always wanted to be in a book club. While we usually drink wine and gossip half the time, it's great fun and we all get to take turns selecting a book. This month we're reading author Laurie Notaro's novel The Idiot Girl's Action-Adventure Club: True Tales from a Magnificent and Clumsy Life.

I know I've written about the importance of titles and I just adore this one! It's clear it's a humorous, women's nonfiction book.

Here's what Publishers Weekly says about it:
This collection of columns, originally written for the Arizona Republic, details Notaro's daring exploits and comical mishaps as she matures from wild teenager to disheveled adult. "The Useless Black Bra and the Stinkin'-drunk Twelve-step Program" is a classic drinking story, complete with the lost friend who is eventually found in a neighbor's front yard wearing only a bra. This hard-drinking, chain-smoking approach to partying inevitably leads to some punishing hangovers; in one extreme case, Notaro is mistaken for a homeless person while en route to jury duty in "Going Courtin'." Not surprisingly, disregard for her appearance diminishes her chances of fulfilling her mother's dream and bringing home from the trial a "balding, sexually repressed twenty-seven-year-old attorney strangled in a Perry Ellis necktie." Notaro's QVC-addicted mother is predictably in opposition to and embarrassed by her daughter's bad-girl antics. In "Waking Angela Up," Notaro compares herself to Janeane Garofalo, and there indeed are clear similarities in the blunt self-deprecation that fuels both women's humor.

In my opinion, if David Sedaris' writing had a crazy love child with Melissa Bank's, the result would be Notaro's writing style.

I think her work can help remind nonfiction writers that there is a dearth of comedic writing out there and yet an audience for it. For fiction writers, we need to remember that so much of the comedy we write into our stories can be inspired by true life. We're so busy trying to create something new but there may be great ideas (or quirky characters) all around us if we just stop and observe a little closer.

Here's one of my favorite excerpts from the book entailing a drunken night out with a friend and the subsequent break-in after locking themselves out of the house. "I found that night that being smashed does other things to me besides making me believe that I am thin, attractive, and have a Motown-quality singing voice. It also makes me limber as a wrinkled prostitute, because I scaled a six-foot wall to Nikki's backyard in seconds flat, though the next day I woke up with so many bruises on my inner thighs that I thought I'd wrestled a gynecologist."

What are you reading for your book club; anything funny recently?

Friday, December 10, 2010

So You Want to Write a Novel

I shared this on Twitter a week ago but it's funny enough that it warrants its own post here. If you haven't checked it out, I definitely recommend it especially if you're a writer!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Whip It

I caught the last 10 minutes of the movie "Whip It" last night and considering I laughed, nearly cried, and definitely cheered during those 10 minutes I know have to go out and rent this movie to watch in its entirety.

One of the things I LOVED instantly and seemed so appropriate for the roller derby setting were the player nicknames. You know that moment when you read a book or watch a movie and something (although you often can't name it) seems a little off while other times it's so believable because it's perfectly right on. That's how I felt about these names; they added comedic effect while also coming off as authentic for the setting. Here they are; I'll let you decide if you agree.

* Ellen Page as Babe Ruthless
* Jimmy Fallon as 'Hot Tub' Johnny Rocket
* Kristen Wiig as Maggie Mayhem
* Zoƫ Bell as Bloody Holly
* Eve as Rosa Sparks
* Drew Barrymore as Smashley Simpson
* Andrew Wilson as Razor
* Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven
* Ari Graynor as Eva Destruction
* Har Mar Superstar

And here a peak at the movie trailer:

An added bonus of catching the tail-end of the movie was hearing Lorene Scafaria's song "28" playing during the credits. It's an instant new writing song for me.

What about you? Have you uncovered any new great songs or movies to share?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

One of Those Days

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Do you guys remember this book?

So begins the trials and tribulations of Alexander:
"I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day."

So I'm sorry I didn't post something yesterday but...

Everyone in the house was sick, from my husband to my dog. The shower was freezing cold when I stepped into it shocking me awake. The 17 mph wind easily blew through any attempt I had at layers. The metro was delayed. I spilled coffee on my keyboard. It was, in summary, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I don't often feel I'm living out a book. Usually there are only small, stolen moments in a storyline that feel exacting. But yesterday I was Alexander in this book. We were together in the struggle.

I definitely do not love these days but I do love this book. It was, I remember, so refreshing to know that someone else had felt the way I had on occasion. So this got me wondering, what books have you lived out?

My inner soundtrack was (and without fail always is on these kinds of days) Monica's "Don't Take It Personal." Sure it's an R&B song circa 1995 but like comfort food this is my comfort song and I dare you not to love it...okay, I don't dare the haters but the others, I dare you :-)

Bonus feature:
Judith Viorst, author of Alexander among others, has participated in the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. The podcast can be listened to here.