Books. Opinions. Good times.

Coyote Blue

coyote blueHi guys! Long time, no post – but I’m finally getting back into the swing of things. (Summer has been insanely busy!) My latest read was Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue.  

I’ve read and reviewed Moore before and he is a hilarious author, though he can be a bit hit and miss for me – sometimes I can’t put his books down and sometimes I can see that they’re funny but I don’t actually have a reaction to it.  This one hit the spot.  

It’s the story of Sam Hunter, a Crow (the Native American, not the bird) who left the reservation at a young age and became a successful insurance sales man in Santa Barbara.  Unfortunately, Sam’s spirit guide is the trickster Coyote, who decides to enter his life in a major way. 

I read this after a bit of a Native American book kick (The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian and Navajo Weapons, both excellent) and it rounded out the trio rather well.  It’s a fictional work (the other two are quasi-fictional and non-fiction) and though Sam’s relationship with his Crow heritage is focused on, the focus comes more on his spiritual connection and reconnecting with who he is, rather than what it actually means to be Native American or exploring Native American traditions in detail.  

I also liked that Moore pulled from a tradition that is largely ignored in the literature scene, though I can’t say I learned a large amount about the Crow people or their religion. However, Moore did use it to explore something that is both familiar and foreign to every American without romanticizing the culture or othering his main characters.  They were the same wacky everyman that Moore generally writes about.  Sam’s struggle with his heritage and going home, while unique to his situation, is something most people can identify with. (Though, generally not with a crazy spirit guide leading the action.) 

That being said, I did like Anasazi Boys more in terms of using a religious or folklore tradition not usually scene within Western literature.  Coyote Blue was still really good, though, don’t get me wrong. 

The plot was fast-paced but not terribly convoluted.  I had an easy enough time following it and by about halfway through the book, I had reached a “can’t-put-down” state of reading.  Moore used flashbacks and storytelling to great effect – though I like short legends interspersed throughout, I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks but his usage didn’t bother me.  

The characters were actually very well-done.  I wanted to hate Sam, but instead found myself rooting for him.  Calliope should have come off as annoying but instead came off as sympathetic.  And Coyote – you wanted to pity him but rather found yourself amused by his bravado.  Some of the side characters were a little too caricature-ish for my tastes, but they didn’t play prominent enough roles for me to get annoyed by it. 

The humor was good, though expect it to get a tad crude or violent at times (nothing too horrible!).  There are a few one-liners you’ll want to quote to your friends and more than one scene where I found myself chuckling in public, though not outright laughing.  

Overall, if you like comedic fantasy and you’re looking for something bright, funny, and a bit different, you should definitely check this out! If you’re into a humor that’s more wit and wordplay than zany wackiness, or if a hard-to-like main character isn’t your thing, then, alas, this may not be the book for you! 

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American Savage

american savage

by: Dan Savage

Dan Savage is the author of “Seattle’s Only Advice Column”, Savage Love, which focuses on questions about relationships love, sex, and more sex.  I have a secret addiction to advice columns, and his is one of my absolute favorites, from the wacky questions he tackles to his favorite piece of advice – DTMFA (dump the motherfucker already.) He’s not the type to wrap hard messages in a sweet and gentle delivery; he’s a “tell it like he see it” sort of person and I really enjoy that.  Not to mention, that’s a rarity on advice blogs! (Alison, from askamanager.org, which you absolutely should be reading if you’re not, also does a great job of not sugarcoating, though with much more finesse than Savage.)

Anyway, this is Savage’s 3rd-ish book*.  It’s more a collection of essays, with each chapter devoted to a separate topic, than any sort of comprehensive non-fiction.  Savage is very honest, so if you’ve been interested in a controversy he’s been involved it, the latest two are given an entire chapter and you can read all about his experience and thoughts.  It’s pretty interesting.

Other things covered are equal marriage rights, healthcare, monogamy, abstinence-only sex ed (spoiler alert: it doesn’t work), politics, being GGG, and a very heart-wrenching chapter on his mother’s death.

I loved this book.  It was a fast read, and it was funny enough to make me laugh, yet sincere enough to be more than a collection of comedic rants. It gave Savage an unexpectedly human dimension and, though the book is part of his public persona, sure, you walk away feeling as if you understand him as a person rather than a public figure.  My favorite chapter dealt with cheating and monogamy; I already knew that Savage and I had similar views but hearing his thoughts expanded and dealt with fully resonated with me.

I don’t think this book is going to change anyone’s mind on anything, except as it gives a sense of humanity to a public gay person, which can be important.  But if you already agree with many of Savage’s opinions and are looking for ways to organize and develop your arguments, or explain your feelings, than this book is probably a great read for you.  Even if you don’t agree, if you’re interested in seeing the reasons behind his stances, Savage is crystal clear throughout the book about why he feels the way he does. It just didn’t strike me as particularly persuasive – I don’t think the intent of the book was to get converts.  But maybe that was just me?

Anyway, if you’re looking for a fun read full of rants and left-leaning political opinions that will make you laugh, you should definitely read this book.  If you’re looking for a serious political treatise, though, you might want to give it a pass.

 

 

*Depending on how you count; a/k/a I was lazy and Wikipedia did not provide an easy answer.  Savage heads up the It Gets Better Project, an outreach effort to LGBT kids who are being bullied or ostracized or who feel forced to hide their sexuality.  There’s an amazing book he edited – hence the -ish – and a whole bunch of YouTube videos and if you know anyone who you think could use support, definitely leave a link or a the book around for them to find.

Waiting on You

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 by: Kristan Higgins

I picked up this romance novel at Rite Aid a week or so ago (along with ice cream and pop chips; it was not a good day) on the recommendation of two of my favorite authors, Eloisa James and Julia Quinn.  With a double whammy, how can you go wrong?

And I didn’t.  While not my favorite romance novel ever, it was probably the best one from a new author I’ve picked up in a long, long time.  The characterizations were really good, with the main characters and most of the supporting characters being extremely well-developed.  There were one or two supporting characters that came across as a little “type-y” rather than depending on Higgins’ characterization to develop, but it certainly wasn’t an egregious overuse.

The plotline was good – it’s one of those “old love comes back to town” kind of deals.  I’m really fond of that plot device – I think it makes for a more believable bond between the two main characters.  And Higgins put a pretty interesting twist on it here, without making it too angst-ridden.  The pacing was really nice; at no point did I feel like it was either dragging or leaving me with my head spinning.

The book itself was light and full of humor.  I don’t think it actually made me laugh or chuckle at any point, but it certainly worked as an escape mechanism.  One of the things I liked best is how Higgins handled secondary relationships between the main characters and their friends and family.  Without overshadowing the main relationship of the book, Higgins manages to make them important to the characters’ development and believable.  It helps to round out the characters, but it also makes the book seem more grounded in reality.  Family and friends generally are an important part of any life decision and it’s always weird to me when authors neglect those relationships in favor of a romantic relationship.  Higgins struck an exceptionally good balance, I feel, especially for a contemporary novel where it’s so easy to create situations where the characters can be removed from their families.

The book draws a lot from Jane Austen’s Emma and at first, I thought it was going to be a little too much “men are like X and to trap them women must Y.”  That is not an attitude I’m fond of at all.  But instead, Higgins used that set-up to create some interesting situations and invert those expectations.  (Much like Austen’s Emma, so perhaps I should have expected that, rather than risking brain damage by rolling my eyes so hard during the first few pages.)

There was lots and lots of sexual tension in this book but very little actual sex.  (I don’t recall reading any, although sometimes I just skim over those scenes.)  I was kinda meh about this aspect of the book – didn’t think a lot or a little of it.

All in all, if you like contemporary romances that are light and fun, you should definitely give Waiting on You a try.  It was a very good bit of escapism.  If you like your romances heavy sexualized or dark, or if you like them completely focused on the relationship between the two main characters, than perhaps this isn’t the book for you.

Corpus Christi

corpus christi

by: Bret Anthony Johnston

Corpus Christi: Stories is a collection of short stories, which I’m going to be upfront about and say – not my favorite form of literature.  While I enjoyed this book and have a mostly positive review, and Johnston is certainly an amazing writer, I do think some of my less favorable remarks are influenced by the fact that I don’t particularly care for short stories.

And on the note of full disclosure, Corpus Christi is set in the Texan city it is named after, which is about an hour from where I grew up.  It was the nearest big city and I spent a lot of time there, shopping, going to orthodontist appointments, checking out the sights and the beach – it’s a pretty cool place. The Texas State Aquarium is amazing; go if you have the chance.  And, with the caveat that Johnston did grow up actually in Corpus, I felt a little odd about how he chose to incorporate the setting into the story.

Certainly, the setting felt like it was a real place, but – his Corpus was not my Corpus.  It appears from his biography that he hasn’t lived in Corpus for a while, and there were certain parts of the dialect and the stories that just jarred slightly.  (I’ve never heard anyone from back home say “sunblock,” for instance; I’ve always heard it referred to as “sunscreen.”)  The reference to the Nutcracker coming to town being a big deal – there’s now a ballet in Corpus that performs that every year; I feel like that sentence should have been started with “Back then” or something.

But there were certainly parts that felt authentic, and it’s only the second book I’ve read set in Corpus, and the third set in South Texas/the Coastal Bend in general, so there’s that.  I also think I would care less about whether or not it aligned with my experience of Corpus if there were more books or media or any sort set there.

One of the big things that jumped out at me, though, was how predominately white the stories were. According to Wikipedia, Corpus is more than 50% Hispanic/Latino and I think one of the most jarring things about the stories was how whitewashed they seemed.  That may have just been Johnston’s experience, depending on what neighborhood he grew up in, but it was probably the biggest thing that stuck out to me as not feeling like Corpus.

That aside, Johnston is an amazing writer.  His stories mostly examined relationship between adult children and their parents, though not exclusively.  It’s not a relationship I tend to focus a lot of my reading on, but I really enjoyed the way Johnston explored them.  They were complicated and imperfect, and many of the characters existed within a dysfunctional family.

Johnston does an absolutely fantastic job of creating this complex relationships between these extremely well-developed characters, very simply and in an incredibly short amount of space.  His writing is beautiful and the stories have – emotional resonance? They weren’t quite bittersweet but they managed to strike the perfect balance between evoking pain and evoking hope. There are three connected short stories that form the backbone of this collection, focusing on the relationship between a mother and her son, and I absolutely loved them.  They were brilliant and honest and heartbreaking.  His use of the scenery was subtle, but it fit well into the story and I think the title is completely appropriate.  I am definitely going to be reading more of his works.

If you like elegant, yet heartbreaking short stories, or if you love a well-written story, you should absolutely read Corpus Christi.  If you’re into happy endings, or something more than a hope for a better future, you should probably give this one a pass.

If you’re from Corpus or if you’ve ever lived there, I’d love your take on this book! Please leave a comment!

My Prize!!!

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I mentioned in my last post that I won a super cool prize from my favorite blogger, Ensis, of Ensis Reads (Formally Don’t Read Books. Apparently Ensis has been making some big changes in book philosophy!) First of all, I encourage you to pop over to his site, because it’s really awesome and just undergone this super-cool revamp.  Second of all, this is the coolest travel mug I’ve ever seen and I really applaud Ensis on his marketing skills, because seeing this makes me really want to read his book, How to Reverse Polarity.   Don’t the clock and the title look kick-ass?! (By the way, I’m reading his book as soon as I finish with Quesadillas.

I’m not a huge coffee drinker but I am a huge fan of chocolate milk, so this bad boy gets loaded up with hot chocolate in the mornings and then keeps me warm as I walk to the shuttle stop.  Perfection! 

Enchanted

enchanted

by: Alethea Kontis

Blog note: I won a contest over at Ensis Reads, formally Don’t Read! I got this wicked awesome traveling coffee mug (LOVE IT!), and I am going to do a full post with pictures this weekend!

This is the first book in The Woodcutter Sisters series, a book based on the family of Jack and Seven Woodcutter, and featuring modern retellings of European fairy tales – quite a few of them feature in each book.

The woodcutter sisters are seven sisters born to a woodcutter and his wife (naturally).  Each of the girls is named after a different day of the week.  Sunday, our heroine, is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter – I do love that in this world, that is equally powerful as the seventh son of a seventh son.  Sunday befriends a frog in the woods and thus starts an adventure to change the life of her and her sisters forever.  And yes, this book is based mostly on The Frog Prince, one of my favorite fairy tales.

As a protagonist, I liked Sunday a lot.  She was thoughtful and somewhat dreamy, but she still did things and was very much an active participant in the story.  The frog prince, Rumbold, is also a good character – very flawed but likable.  He spends a lot of time in the story learning to be a man, without having it be the central theme of the story.  I very much appreciate that – I feel like too often a main male character growing into manhood automatically becomes the center of the story.  Here, though, it is an important part without overpowering the story. I didn’t necessarily think he was romantic or dashing or any of the things I like my romantic heroes to be – but I did think he was an interesting character and a good fit for Sunday.

The plot was good, though the pacing was a little weird.  There was a bit too much going on, even though it’s a fairy long YA novel.  It was partly because Kontis was fairly obviously trying to set up plotlines for all the continuing book in the series, plus introduce other characters which have already had their adventures, like her sister Thursday.  (That was pretty irritating.  Thursday runs off to sea and becomes a pirate captain.  I want to read that story!) Three of Sunday’s siblings have already found their ever after; one of them finds it as a minor side plot in this story.  The writing was quite good, but there was simply too much going on.  I feel like Kontis could have worried less about making sure we understand everything that’s happened or is happening to this family and worried more about tightening up the plot.

The book, however, was engaging and I definitely stayed up late to finish it! A great sign.  Unfortunately, it also wasn’t that memorable.  While I definitely want to read other books in the series, I did have trouble recalling what happened in this book while writing this review. I think part of that is so much happened that my brain kinda gave up on it.

The characters were, as a whole, engaging and interesting but Kontis ran into the same problem with them as she did with the plot; namely, there were too many that she was trying to give too much attention to.  That means some of the characters, like Wednesday, became “tells” and not “shows.”  Sunday tells us a lot about Wednesday but the reader never gets to see her behaving in her odd Wednesday ways, so her particular storyline isn’t very convincing or engaging, even though she’s central to what happens in the story.  On the other hand, I completely fell in love with Saturday and cannot wait to read her book.  The characters that Kontis fully fleshes out are done extremely well and absolutely perfect for a YA novel.

The flaws didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story but I do think a strong red pen could’ve turned this story from a book I really liked to a book I’d rave about.  That makes me a little sad, to be completely truthful, though I’m happy I read it anyway.

If you’re into YA novels with a strong fairy tale influence or if you like ordinary teenage characters who have extraordinary adventures, you should definitely pick this one up! If you don’t like the feeling of being plunged into the middle of a series (I know it’s billed as the first, but it doesn’t feel like it), or if you like your fairy tale retellings with a darker or socially relevant edge, than alack! this may not the book for you.