The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (Book Review)

The Notebook (The Notebook, #1)The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book tried to give me diabetes.

I kept reading because (1) it was the car wreck I couldn’t not look at and (2) it was a game to see if I could finish before the library loan expired and it disappeared from my Kindle. (I won.) To be fair, I’d thought Nicholas Sparks was a plain old novelist and The Notebook was a plain old novel that happened to be romantic. Nope, he is a romance writer and this is a romance novel.  If I’d known that, I’d never have borrowed it.

Commence romance rant:

I loathe romance books. I recently tried to read Stranglehold, another romance novel, but only because it was misleadingly classified as mystery/thriller. That was an even bigger disappointment. That heroine could have been the most awesome female protagonist since Beatrix Kiddo, but the author devolved her into just another weepy, helpless pawn needing to be scooped up and saved by a man. C’mon, romance novelists! I’m happy to see the genre has evolved past that whole rapey thing, but this is 2015. Can’t we have a heroine who lives and loves, who and where and when and how she wants, without needing a man to rescue or complete her? I’m looking for Stella getting her groove back, minus all the vaginal paranoia.

Now for the rant about this book in particular:

Romantic tropes abound. The restored plantation house complete with rocking chair on the dock, the idolized dead mother, the wise daddyisms, the society girl and the boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Our Hero is the broad-shouldered, outdoorsy, faded-jeans-wearing, under-a-tree-sitting, singing-and-guitar-playing, athletic loner poet. Could he be an incarnation of Pan? Whatever, he’s cliched perfection. He even cooks. Allie… I just want to slap her for a Mary Sue. Does she laugh any way besides “under her breath?” Annoying.

Then we have the stereotypical old black man as the only friend, so understanding and wise, and the stereotypical Jewish boss with the uncanny knack for making money…racist much?

I don’t need a blow-by-blow of how Noah cooks vegetables or turns the light on when entering a room. Books with endless filler of that sort piss me off, no matter what the genre.That crap is just filling word or page quotas and it cheats readers. (Charlaine Harris,  I’m talking to you. I adore Sookie, but you’re also guilty of this. )

There’s no build-up.  Just Our Hero sitting on the porch with beard stubble and a beer and a book of poetry (because he is manly but sensitive) and she arrives and BAM! We’re in the love story of the ages, which should be subtitled “Alzheimer’s Can Be Beautiful.” And then the end, what the hell? I’m at 79% thinking I’ve got enough story left to kill the next hour, and it suddenly ENDS. The last 20% is taken up with a reader’s guide (seriously? somebody thinks this is literature?) and stills from the movie.  Cheesy.  If I’d paid for this book I would feel ripped off, which I kind of do anyway.

Loins stir. ..the two become one. ..what we have is too beautiful to throw away…follow your heart… the rainstorm-sheer-dress-better-get-you-out-of-those-wet-clothes setup. .. oh,  puh-leeze. I’m not begrudging them their hot-rush-of-new-love boinkathon. Hot-rush-of-new-love boinkathons are awesome and everybody should have one, if not several, in their lifetime. But this isn’t just romance, it’s schlocky, gimmicky,  juvenile, contrived romance. Gack.

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Perfect Life

The best way to talk about anxiety and panic disorder is in the context of experiencing a perfect day without them. In the 35 years since I had my first panic attack, these days are rare. I treasure them.
My son Monster was here this past week. Since I moved from Nevada to Washington, he’s what I miss the most. Several months ago he texted me that one of his favorite musicians, Steven Wilson, would be appearing live in Seattle in June. I got the show tickets and he got a plane ticket.

Life is full of blessings when we open our eyes and hearts to appreciate them, but every now and then, a perfect day stands out above all the others, one of those days that when you’re living it, you find yourself thinking, “I could die right now and not mind at all, because I’ve had this day.” That perfect. I love it when I have the presence of mind to know how perfect things are, without having to look back later in belated realization.
Even though I spent part of the day working, that perfect.
I left work and met Monster downtown, surrounded by strangers, the stuff of which agoraphobic panic attacks are made. Attacks completely absent. We walked around Pike Place Market, looked at souvenirs and jewelry and leatherwork and flowers and gewgaws. We listened to the buskers and ate locally packed huckleberry ice cream. At peace, relaxed. We got hungry, ambled over to Kells in Post Alley. Eating in public, a bugaboo for me. Panic and anxiety absent. We laughed over Irish red ale and I rediscovered Irish soda bread. We were mildly disappointed that the ghost for which Kells is known did not make an appearance. No panic.
You would understand how much this meant if you knew how rare these days are for me.
And then…and then…he got me to go on the Great Wheel, Seattle’s 175-foot high Ferris wheel on the waterfront, extending out over the waters of Elliott Bay. Sure, it took a little bit more alcohol…

…but a cold Alaskan Amber ale is not such a sacrifice on a beautifully hot day on the Puget Sound.
I was calm while we bought the tickets and stood in line. I was calm as we mounted the steps and stepped inside the closed-in Ferris wheel car. I felt calm as the door was sealed shut and we moved up just a little. I marveled a bit at it, that calm.
We moved farther up and then stopped so cars beneath us could be emptied and filled. We were high up now, the city like a toy beneath us. We were locked in a clear bubble suspended from a metal arm. Precarious! My throat seemed to fill and I felt that twinge, that small stab in my gut, the beginning of my panic but then, wonderfully, some hidden Oh-No-You’re-Not-Ruining-This-Good-Time-With-Your-Stupid-Anxiety-Bullshit part of my mind immediately quelled it. (Note to self: strengthen the ONYNRGTWYSAB brain part. It kicks panic attack ass.)
I did not panic. I took pictures, as proof of my accomplishment. I was on a giant Ferris wheel!

I was laughing when we got off again. No panic! No anxiety! No cowering in the corner praying for five whole minutes to go by so I could get off that contraption! But I hadn’t only survived it — I’d enjoyed it!
Almost time for the show, we made our way back up from the waterfront to the historic Moore Theatre, built in 1907, a beautiful building. The line at the door was already around the corner as we joined the end of it. Again, open street, lots of people…still no anxiety. We waited in line for an hour, leaning against the building, sitting right on the sidewalk, people-watching, remembering other shows. No anxiety. The line started to move. Thousands of people milling around inside, but no panic there either. We found what turned out to be excellent seats, and settled in for what turned out to be a decidedly excellent show.

A brief digression, but maybe not so much, because it all ties in for me…one of the inspirations and themes behind Steven Wilson’s latest album, Hand. Cannot. Erase., is the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, the young British woman who had been dead in her flat for three years without any of her numerous friends and family members noticing her absence, her body not found until creditors broke her door in because she was behind on her rent. But it is not just the tragedy of failed connections, but also a celebration of connections that we were made at all, and the knowledge that once we have a moment of joy, that connection can never be lost. That’s just what I think at this point, having listened to it only a dozen times or so. I’m sure there’s more there. If you like art rock and a deeper meaning to the music, go buy this album. Now. It is phenomenal.
And still no panic. It helped that the crowd was largely mature and not so inclined to unruly displays, and that Wilson himself is not a rock star so much as he is a true performing artist, not on stage to posture or whip up a frenzied mob but rather to bring a message through the mediums of exquisitely instrumented sound, simple yet eloquent visual effects, and, more than anything else, ambiance. (I am also partial to the fact that with his hair and glasses he’s got this whole John Lennon thing going on.) At different points people stood up to rock out, at other times they stayed seated. I sat anyway, feet and arthritic knees aching, surrounded by torsos and arms and glowing blue dark, feeling the bass thumping in my chest, closing my eyes to let the music wash over me and pull me under.
No panic at all. Not even on the way home, bus so crowded we had to stand, mild altercation with the self-absorbed jerk who damn near pulled me to the floor as he bulldozed through. The day had been full of too many happy things.
These are the days that make my life shine, a life marked indelibly by 35 years worth of anxiety disorder and panic attacks that could easily have rendered me housebound if I wasn’t so stupid, or stubborn, or both. These are days when I know I am not defeated; that I think that if its only purpose is helping me appreciate all the shining things, then that is a worthy purpose; that it is always worth getting up one more morning in the hopes that this day will be another one of those days that shines a light when my  mind is overtaken by black. I may cover my eyes with my hands in the desolation of depression and panic, but there are things I will always be able to see, no matter how far away they are in time and in space and no matter how tightly I close my fingers.
Because the bad things do not ruin a life. A connection lost in real time doesn’t mean it’s still not there somewhere. That’s the wonder of memory – time is a like a river. We can walk back upstream and step into a shining day from childhood; we can walk downstream and wade into anticipation and dreams for the future.

The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi (Book Review)

The Color of our SkyThe Color of our Sky by Amita Trasi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received an ARC for review from Bloomhill Books and NetGalley.

This story of the horrors of the sex trade and the injustice of the caste system in India is told through the intertwining of the lives of two young girls, one born to the upper class and the other to brothel slavery.

Cons: I was left curious as to how Tara was managing for herself in India, arriving there rather suddenly and staying for five years, apparently without a job. I know the focus of the story was on Tara and Mukta, but something of the rest of Tara’s life would have rounded her out. Both Tara’s and Mukta’s voices sounded the same, but the details of the two girls’ lives were intriguing enough that I could overlook it.

Pros: The hopelessness of forced prostitution, further cursed by a heartless bureaucracy and a trail gone cold eleven years ago, were told so matter-of-factly as to make it even more brutal. Excellent sense of place; I really felt the heat and humidity and pouring rain, saw the rural villages and garbage-strewn red-light district. I felt the futility of social status and human worth assigned by one’s station of birth. I felt the loving bonds between the characters and the hope that stays alive underneath all the ugliness.

A moving story, well told. Kudos!

Bonus points for the cover, one of the most beautiful I’ve seen.

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The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (Book Review)

The Sisters BrothersThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“It came over me all at once then: I was not an efficient killer. I was not  and had never been and would never be.” It was the cover art that really drew me to this book. I am generally not a fan of westerns, but I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of two hired-gun brothers in gold rush California. I like a story that can make me like the bad guy. Shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker prize, I liked this book better than the winner.

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Stranglehold by Katherine Jeffries (Book Review)

StrangleholdStranglehold by Katherine Jeffries
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I think this book is far more romance than mystery/thriller. Romance fans may love the book, so I don’t want to submit a negative review because I dislike the entire genre. Not my cup of tea.

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