Angela Carter, Courtney Love, and Sleep Sweet Sleep (Book Review: The Bloody Chamber)

The Bloody Chamber and Other StoriesThe Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the strangest endorsement for a book I’ve ever come out with. This book of fairy tales retold with a very feminist spin is indeed magic, but not for me as for most people. You see, I suffer from what may be the world’s worst, chronic insomnia. I often go days at a stretch with a handful of hours of sleep spread over the whole thing, sleep deprivation fueling my also chronic anxiety and panic disorder, so I’m left fumbling my way through the world half afraid I’m about to fall right off of it and half hoping I will, so I can just get it all over with already. Welcome to my life.

The magic this book gave me was sleep.

I was awake one night as usual, scrolling down Courtney Love’s Facebook page for some reason. I don’t know how I ended up there. I don’t love her, I don’t hate her, she just is, although I was sad when Kurt Cobain joined the 27 Club. Click, click, click, one place to another and there I was. Hi, Courtney. So, Courtney Love had a post about this book, and it intrigued me, so for something else to do while not sleeping I reserved it on my library website.

I started reading it in bed one night, and although I was enraptured by Carter’s prose and intrigued by the retelling of Bluebeard…I fell asleep. Right on the pages of the book, with the light still on, and I slept the whole night through, until my alarm gently woke me. What a rare treat it is for me, to sleep until my alarm wakes me! And then…it happened again the next night. And the next. Over the week I spent reading this book every evening in bed, that’s what happened every night. I slept. Full nights. For six nights in a row.

I hadn’t felt that good in years.

I finished the book, and the sleeping stopped.

I have to return it to the library, although I will be getting my own copy. Not just for the sleep; Carter’s stories are beautiful, and her writing is lyrical.

But the sleep is a gift without compare. I’m happy to read the same book, every night, for the rest of my life. I hope my own copy will cast the same spell. If it turns out that this one particular volume is the talisman, then I’ll borrow it from the library again and tell them I lost it, and pay whatever they charge me and gladly, so I can keep this magic book. I may try harder to like Courtney Love, too.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (Book Review)

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“How old are you, really?” I asked.
I thought for a bit. Then I asked, “How long have you been eleven for?”
She smiled at me.

This book is the next A Wrinkle in Time for me, and that’s a massive compliment, given that AWIT is one of my all-time favorite books forever and ever.

If you love magic and monsters and shadowy things and quantum physics and sacrifice and creation, and all the nameless fear and faith and innocence of childhood, read this book.

“Your pond. It’s not an ocean. It can’t be. Oceans are bigger than seas. Your pond is just a pond.”

“It’s as big as it needs to be.”

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Children of Paradise by Fred D’Aguiar (Book Review)

Children of ParadiseChildren of Paradise by Fred D’Aguiar
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A young girl is terrorized and mauled to death by a gorilla. Other children are watching. Her mother is devastated. Other people are shocked and horrified. A teenage boy turns his own mother in for disloyalty. A charismatic preacher resurrects the dead child before the eyes of his followers. They are amazed. The gorilla is sorry. I don’t care.

Far too much tell and not enough show. The POV switching is choppy and I think the passive voice adds to the woodenness of the characters. The device of no quotation marks around conversation can sometimes be used to good effect, but here it just adds to the confusion and lackluster.

And I know that now I’m just being picky, but the gorilla could not have been captured near the commune. The commune is in Guyana, South America, and gorillas are native only to Africa. That’s too bad, because the gorilla shows more emotion and analytic thought capability and overall personality than any other character.

Perhaps I’ll try some of D’Aguiar’s poetry, as some of his descriptive passages are evocative. This novel, though…no. Abandoned.

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Book Review)

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”

I’m supposed to be finalizing a research paper, and procrastination rocks. I read this book more than a year ago and should have told the world what I think before now. I read the entire thing in one evening and the following day, and when I closed the back cover, I immediately turned it over, opened it at the beginning, and read it again. It is simply that freaking good. I will never see the movie, because it would inevitably be a huge letdown after such an amazing book.

I also like the rumor that this is a NaNoWriMo novel. I don’t know if that’s true, but I love this book and I love NaNoWriMo, so it’s a happy rumor for me.

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Nothing Gold Can Stay

Summer is over. It’s now dark when I leave in the morning, and I have to use the light of my cell phone to signal the bus driver, to make sure he’ll see me and stop. The light jacket that isn’t enough in the morning is too much at midday. The maples outside my window are brilliant.

Autumn. You are so beautiful I can hardly breathe when I look at you, and you leave me so melancholy. If you’re me, that makes perfect sense. Autumn, you are an ending. You are golden days gone. You are perfect days, over. You are goodbye.

I woke this morning with a head full of perfect times gone by.
In the early 90’s I was a single mother to my toddler son, working as a 911 dispatcher in a small town in Nevada. Monster was the sunniest, most laid-back child ever. My mom and two sisters not only helped me with child care, they argued over who got the privilege of caring for him that day, he was just that much fun to take care of and they needed their “fix.”  I was making good money; all my bills were paid, I had some savings and enough left over to do fun things like Marine World and trips to San Francisco, wandering around Tiburon and seeing Lamplighters musical theater shows. I was making my living doing something that helped other people in a tangible way, and that I was damned good at. I lived in what looked from the outside like a crappy single-wide trailer, that on the inside was a cherry, cheery, comfortable home, with the best kitchen I’ve ever had My panic and anxiety disorder was in remission, if that’s an accurate term; for a couple of precious years I moved through the world fearlessly.
But then a new sheriff came to town, literally, one who was not pleasant to work for. My life collided with the man who became my second husband and I was plunged into an abusive marriage. My sister died, suddenly and violently. The panic came back.
Nothing gold can stay.

Every summer during my childhood, we traveled from our home in Colorado to visit my grandparents in Carson City, Nevada. My mother’s sister and her family would come up from California and the house was jam-packed with cousins and aunts and uncles.  We made day trips to the beach at Lake Tahoe or to Virginia City, inch-worming up the rutted, precarious Six-Mile Canyon Road in Grandpa’s old Scout. We shopped for school clothes and had grilled cheese and chocolate malteds at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s. We rockhounded the desert hills for stones my grandfather would cut and polish and set into jewelry I still call my Grandpa Originals. During those summers I felt as connected and as part of things as I ever would in my life. At night the kitchen nook became a dormitory full of cots for me and my sisters and female cousins. The boys were on similar cots out in the big garage, and from what we could hear through the wall, they were having a lot more fun than we girls were, possibly because the adults couldn’t hear them and didn’t keep shushing them. Finally, one year, we wheedled and cajoled the grown-ups into putting the boys in the dining area and letting us girls dorm in the garage. It was every bit as superior as I’d known it would be. A garage is an odd place to love, but I loved my grandparents’ garage.
Time passed. Six-Mile Canyon Road has long been graded and paved. The Scout gave out and was replaced. Woolworth’s and its lunch counter have gone the way of supermalls and food courts. We grew up. Nothing gold can stay.
Before my move to Seattle, when I had already intuited that the bad economy was eventually going to claim me, my boss gave me a week off work just because I deserved it. We spent it camping at Fort Churchill, not far from where I lived.

The food was excellent, but food always does taste better when you eat it outside. The beer was cold and perfect. Everybody got along. We splashed around in what passed for the river in high summer drought; we played games and laughed and reveled in the campfire and moonlight. In the cool and secret shade of the trees, where birds sang their territories and spiders danced their webs, my troubles could not enter. I was safe in the here and now, safe from worry about the future. And for the first time in years, I was able to sleep. Lullabied by coyotes kiyi-ing and owls who-ing and leaves whispering to each other in the dark, I retreated from the world, and dreamed, and healed. That week was perfect.
But nothing gold can stay. I didn’t go back to the Real World, though. It was the Real World I had to leave, to return to the Construct’s simulation.
After two years of job-searching in Nevada remained fruitless and my boss could lose no more money by keeping me on, I turned my attention elsewhere, to a place with a reportedly thriving job market and a climate that would be good for the Tominator’s health: the Pacific Northwest. Almost immediately, I was offered a plum job, and I happily reported to work as legal assistant in a beautiful office in downtown Seattle. After being turned down repeatedly for so long, I was ecstatic with my accomplishment and the beautiful city I’d achieved. Everything gleamed and glowed: the furniture, the sun on the windows of the sleek office tower, the luminescent trees that surrounded me with the promise of a fresh start, the water of Puget Sound, the future.
Or, it gleamed for maybe two weeks. My wonderful new boss turned out to have a personality flaw, if not an outright personality disorder; the three months I spent in her employ is one of the most horrific times of my life. The job didn’t last and I was left a stranger in a strange land with precious few resources. I lost my retirement to everyday living expenses. I lost my house. I lost my entire sense of security.
Sometimes it’s not even gold. Sometimes it’s just a mirage. Fool’s gold.
Dream Girl is so very golden, the more so because we’ve worked for her gold like the princess spinning for Rumpelstiltskin. We don’t love a lot of the same things so we treasure what we do adore together, period drama and campy do-wop, chai and pajama pants and those hours here and there when we can hold anxiety at bay. Some of my most treasured times are when we cuddle in my room with tea and slippers and Pride and Prejudice or Little Shop of Horrors or Dirty Dancing.
But she is very nearly an adult in every sense of the word. She is knowledgeable, savvy, almost 18 and on the brink of the adventure of her own journey. She will be leaving me, and that’s as it should be. When we raise our children right, we lose them. I raised her to live her own life, to set her own standards and build what she wants to build, for herself and for those she peoples her life with. It is part of Nature’s cycle that she grows away from me.
These perfect times are gone, yet at the same time they are not gone. I can close my eyes at any time and slip right back into them, through the magic of memory. Love each moment and know you’ll have it forever, but don’t forget to hold your breath for the next one, that is surely, surely coming.
Autumn is here. It’s cold this morning. In the next moment I am going to wrap up in the comfort of my fluffy, thick robe and breathe in the steam from a cup of hot tea. It will be a golden moment.

The gold doesn’t stay, but the Wheel turns. Green returns, and gold as well.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

          ~ Robert Frost, New Hampshire, 1924


Photo credits:
Autumn trees: author photo
Meeks Bay, Lake Tahoe: the_tahoe_guy, Flickr/Creative Commons
Fort Churchill, Nevada: author photo
Seattle skyline; author photo
Sand feet: author photo
Pin Oak in Autumn: public domain

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (Book Review)

Luckiest Girl AliveLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I almost DNF’ed at 15% and I’m still not sure why I went ahead and finished it. TifAni FaNelli (and the name fits, talk about pretentious) is a superficial, calculating, self-centered, acquisitive bitch who doesn’t even pretend to be anything else. She even has a designer eating disorder. I don’t necessarily have to adore a book’s protagonist, but there has to be something I can identify with. The story itself was well-written, although I think the multiple traumas were a bit too much for one book. It was a lot to subject poor Ani to, although I didn’t really care. I’ve never found a protagonist so obnoxious and unlikable.

I am not reading any more books touted as “the next Gone Girl” or “in the style of Gillian Flynn.” Tricksy, tricksy. Amy Dunne had redeeming qualities.  I wouldn’t spend 30 minutes with Ani if she bought the drinks.

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Because I Could

I read two banned books for Banned Books Week, both of them older titles. I loved them both.

Because I could.

The Bluest EyeThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a novel that was both difficult and easy to read. Easy because of so many sentences that I read again and again, rolling them around my mind and off my tongue and wondering how anyone thought to put just those words together in just that order to make something as clear and rich as a bell tone. Difficult because what these sentences tell of is racist, it is sexist, it is abusive and oppressive and cruel and heartbreaking and poverty-stricken. And yet there is beauty as well, in the resilience and faith that still germinate and take root in spite of everything else.

“They beat their children with one hand and stole for them with the other. The hands that felled trees also cut umbilical cords; the hands that wrung the necks of chickens and butchered hogs also nudged African violets into bloom; the arms that loaded sheaves, bales and sacks rocked babies into sleep. They patted biscuits into flaky ovals of innocence — and shrouded the dead.”

I chose to read this book for Banned Books Week, and it may be one of the most important books I have ever read. I see why pinched and mean minds would not want this out there. Because hey, if we let people talk about the fact that people lived the tragedy of oppression and hatred in America not that long ago — and still do — then we acknowledge it’s there, and we are all responsible for it.

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Peyton PlacePeyton Place by Grace Metalious
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Only here do I realize the littleness of the things that can touch me. “

I chose this as one of my reads for Banned Books Week.  What a read! I certainly see why it caused such a furor in 1956. It’s pretty tame by today’s standards, but I still caught myself holding it in such a way that others on the bus couldn’t see what I was reading. Trash! Smut! Gasp! An engrossing read with developed, memorable characters facing the ugliness and heroism of real life in a close-woven small town.

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Homecoming (Flash Fiction)

Carrot Ranch Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Challenge, September 30, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a return to home.
It was a relief to be off the train. Almost two days, including a tortuous 8-hour layover in metal chairs. She’d only had money for her ticket and a sandwich she couldn’t make herself eat. But she’d slept. Maybe Sam would feed her.

He had to, didn’t he? At least he’d come for her.

“What the hell,” he said as she opened the car door. “You just left? Why come here?”

“It’s home,” she said. “Where they have to take you in, right?”

Bristly silence. She looked out the window as the car pulled out, ignoring her angry stomach.