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text 2018-07-16 03:43
at 100 pages, hmmmm
The Witches of Eastwick - John Updike

I thought I'd try something by Mr. Updike that wasn't Rabbit Angstrom-y.


This is the single worst writing from women's point of view that I've ever encountered. These women are the least believable I've ever encountered, and I've read some really bad books. I understand these witches are fantasy, but I can't believe witches would be so ridiculous. Nor can I imagine grown women who complain about getting their periods for a full five (5) days! Or women who think the way these "women" do about their bodies. Men, apparently, believe women are nothing but our bodies and our relationships to men. He gives them interesting professions, then he reduces them to insipid caricatures. 


Dear Male Writers - Woman Have Breasts and Vaginas. I'm going to write a book where the man's balls are all I talk about if I run into this again. Shockingly, our bodies and fear of aging are not the only thing we ever think about.


Argh. I'm very tempted to stop reading this. It's making me irritable. 


However, now the man has entered the picture, so I may try to continue, since I'm almost a third of a way through. But not tonight. I need some female comedy -- on to Netflix!

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review 2018-06-23 22:49
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving

A tidbit I learned whilst reading was that much like the narrator, John Wheelwright, John Irving's mother never revealed the identity of his father to him. Apparently this book contains a lot of Irving's biography (well mixed with fiction) which may interest someone, but not really me.


The thought experiment: what would it take to make me a Christian? is interesting. And it plays out here in the form of one Owen Meany -- annoying prophetic child who knows, without any doubt, that he's an instrument of God. People who have zero doubt are often very irritating, as Owen can be. Owen hasn't arrived at his doubtless state without interrogating his faith or life, though. He's not full of faith because he refuses to see reality, in fact it's almost the opposite. He seems to have questioned and still believes his fate and purpose. I grew up in the Catholic church and never met a person like this until I was already quite the doubting Thomas. However, I can attest to how discombobulating strong faith can be in the face of endless questioning, and this is what Irving sets up so beautifully, comically and tragically for John and Owen.


Along the way we witness a friendship between two boys and young men that is so charming and graceful and appealing that it's hard not to be moved. The comic scenes are pure gold. (I both read and listened to the Christmas pageant scene many times. I bookmarked my audio copy there, and it made me laugh so hard tears rolled down my face, even when I already knew what was going to be said. It's a perfect scene.)


This novel is dense, full of little details, flies off on what seem like tangents, and more than once I wondered if there was an editor. Then in one fell swoop every single detail that seemed extraneous, silly or irritating falls into place. Details become symbols. Tangents find their meaning. The topsy-turvy struggle between faith and doubt gets an answer -- at least for John. But Owen's "gift" of faith to John is not without cost. John Wheelwright is bitter and confused and doesn't seem to know his own place in the world, though he's clear on Owen's. So even with an easy answer on the question of God, this novel shows how painful a life of faith can still be.


Please read this book if you haven't. I'll evangelize for John Irving's story of friendship, home and faith. Hang in through the unholy capitalization and irritation, your belief in the story will be rewarded.

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review 2017-02-27 18:52
The Great American Whatever- audio
The Great American Whatever - Tim Federle

I think what ruined this novel for me was listening to the audio of it. It was read by the author and I thought the author was too old to play the part and his voice just wasn’t cut out for it as I thought all the characters sounded the same and I thought his voice had an even tone to me. The more I listened to it, perhaps it should have been read by more than one person because in parts where there was more than one person speaking it was: Quinn: this, Geoff: that, Quinn: this and so forth. There were no dialogue words like said, replied or remarked, it like a ball was being tossed around, very disjointed and flighty. I kept losing interest in this novel as everything sounded the same.


It was Quinn’s friend Geoff that kept pulling me back, he was the character who I enjoyed the most. Geoff, the guy who tried to pull Quinn out of his rut. Geoff was the fun one, the one who was there for Quinn, and the one who encouraged him. Quinn was deep in sorrow and he had a right to be as there had been a lot of turmoil in his family but it was time to move on. At a party, he meets a guy, and they hit it off. I would like to think that things would turn around for Quinn but Quinn is hiding things from himself and others. It’s like there were two sides to Quinn and I wasn’t sure what side I liked best. Quinn was fun when he wanted to be yet there was this serious side of him, this side that was sensitive and warm. I wished that I hadn’t listened to this novel, I wish that I would have read it instead, for I feel that my feeling towards this novel would have been different.

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review 2016-12-21 11:31
The Great American Dust Bowl
The Great American Dust Bowl - Don Brown

Don Brown does it again! He took a piece of history and made it come alive inside this graphic novel. With glossy illustrations highlighting the dust and the grime that covered the countryside, I learned quite a bit about the American Dust Bowl. I have read other novels about this time period but this one gave me facts and information that I didn’t realize.


Oh, it was a dreadful time in 1935 when the dust clouds first started to form but Brown tells us about the plates that began to move beneath the earth many years before that. He goes into great detail about the bison, and the American Indians who first used the land and how things progressed beyond that. We get the full history before the dust clouds actually arrive. We learn why they came, who they affected, and what damaged they did. It’s a very educational and time-sequenced story, which I highly enjoyed. Imagine experiencing a snow blizzard with dirt in it. Imagine your roof collapsing because there was too much dust on top of it. Imagine birds dying from breathing in the dust from the air. Imagine yourself opening this novel and diving into Don Brown’s Great American Dust Bowl. The illustrations are engaging, the text is geared for upper elementary or middle school readers and when you finally close the last page, you will be well-educated on the Dust Bowl and you would have read one terrific novel.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-10-30 17:40
The Great American Whatever
The Great American Whatever - Tim Federle

***Note: this review assumes that you've read the book.***


One-sentence summary: a quick read, and the story goes down easy, but the "cerebral" protagonist is too familiar from other YA novels (see: John Green, Becky Albertalli, David Arnold), and the author is so busy hitting his notes correctly that the result feels less like a plot and more like a checklist of YA.


Consumable. On the other hand, maybe the familiarity of this novel is one of its good qualities. If I were a highly verbal gay teen boy who loved to read contemporary novels, I'd want a big supply of them. Here's the formula: a contemporary young-adult story about a teen boy coming out and coming of age, with a high-concept hobby (making short films), a quirky habit (writing the perfect movie scene of his life when he's uncomfortable or under stress), and a first romance, all set against the backdrop of a tragedy that the protagonist is slowly recovering from.


Positivity. There's are healthy relationships and a fair amount of diversity in the book, and it's all treated positively. Quinn's best friend, Geoff, is rock solid (other than keeping a secret of his relationship with Quinn's late sister). Quinn's mom is overweight, but she's beautiful to Quinn, and Quinn is not ashamed of her--he sees the real her, not her obesity. Quinn is fully accepted by everyone who loves him when he comes out (they already knew). Is all of this too bland? Mr. Federle seems to want to restrict Quinn's true hardship to grief, and not burden him with more, which means his myriad other conflicts feel unnecessary and easily resolved. (The "betrayal" of finding out that Geoff was dating Annabeth didn't feel terribly authentic to me.) 


First romance. I'm not sure why Amir is in the book, except to check off a couple of YA boxes (first romance, first sex). We know the relationship can't last because Amir is leaving town. There is some growth in Quinn's realization that Amir isn't a great writer, and that even though he's attractive, he's not a lifelong love. But is that the point of Quinn's growth? To see the world in more realistic detail? Perhaps this would work if Mr. Federle had introduced Quinn's problem as "seeing the world as a movie," so that his growth was learning that some things are just ordinary and not glamorous.


Ricky. In a similar vein, I wonder why Mr. Federle included the next-door neighbor, Ricky, who was Quinn's screenwriting idol and onetime mentor. Ricky's slightly disappointing reappearance (which really goes nowhere for the reader) seems only to serve the purpose of making screenwriting seem like a real job, not a mysterious, glamorous, unattainable thing. But that wasn't Quinn's conflict, was it? As a result we simply have a dropped thread: Ricky is in town filming a movie that actually tells the story of his relationship with Quinn--which should be a pretty big deal for our protagonist--but after Quinn visits the set we never hear about the movie again. (Of course, Ricky serves a practical purpose to the plot of living in L.A., where Quinn's film scholarship will take him over the summer, and we readers are meant to assume that he will house Quinn for free, making that trip possible.)


The writing. Clever, erudite, first person. We've seen this a lot. I also found that the beginning dragged--to the point where I would have put this book back on the bookstore shelf if I hadn't bought it already. Are we really going to talk for several pages about how hot it is in Quinn's room, and how he hasn't had the energy to do something about it? We literally begin with Quinn waking up in the morning. (Now I understand why writing manuals warn not to do that.) And on a slightly tangential note, I was disappointed that Quinn's film references were all classics, and that a person who adored filmmaking would categorically reject foreign films. 


The issues. There are too many issues. A dead sister who was Quinn's film collaborator (but secretly not that interested in the art form, just a loving collaborator). Quinn blaming himself for Annabeth's death because she was texting him when she crashed her car. An overweight, grieving mother who won't leave the house. A best friend keeping a secret. The protagonist's coming-out moment. Virginity. Attention-deficit disorder. First romance. A film competition. Finding the oomph to get involved in life again after a tragedy. 


Can we talk about dead siblings? So many YA novels use the death of a sibling as the backdrop for the character's conflict. In the U.S., we're so lucky in having this be a fairly uncommon life experience. Like red-haired characters, the percentage of dead siblings in novels has got to be many times the national average. It means death has become a trope. ("What can I throw at this character to hobble him at the start of my book?") I think that's actually counterproductive to our discussions about illness and death in this country--discussions we don't have enough of, in real life, with our family and friends. It's particularly a problem in this book because Quinn's sister is already dead when we meet Quinn, so we have no chance to become attached to her.

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