I’ll Give You the Sun :: Jandy Nelson :: Book Review

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I’ll Give You the Sun :: Jandy Nelson

About the book:

Via Google Books: I’ll Give You the Sun, was published in 2014. It is a story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal told from different points in time, and in separate voices, by artists Jude and her twin brother Noah. Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. As a series of family tragedies and misunderstandings creates a rift between the two, only by coming back together can they fully understand their story and set the world right again, to remake it.

I’ll Give You the Sun won the prestigious Printz Award, a Stonewall Honor, Bank Street’s Josette Frank Award, and is listed on numerous best of the year lists, including the 2015 YALSA Top 10 Best Fiction for Young Adults, NPR, Time magazine, and Rainbow List Top 10.

As of April 2015, I’ll Give You the Sun is published in 25 countries, and is optioned by Warner Bros for a film to be written by Natalie Krinsky and produced by Denise Di Novi and Allison Greenspan.

About the author:

Jandy Nelson is an American author of young adult fiction. Prior to her career as an author, Nelson worked for 13 years as a literary agent. She holds a BA from Cornell University as well as MFAs in poetry and children’s writing from Brown University and Vermont College of Fine Arts. She currently lives in San Francisco, California.

My thoughts:

Every once in awhile I fall in love with a book in a long term, I want to marry you and have babies and grow old together kind of way. I know it early on usually, or at least have a strong inkling, and as I go further, if it is true book love, I fall harder and harder, and start to slow down, slower, slower, not wanting to say goodbye to the characters, nor the world they inhabit. “I’ll Give You the Sun” is a true book love story for me. This book is now in the top 5 of my all-time favorites, and I am confident it will stay there.

How do I describe it? To be honest, I sort of don’t want to describe it at all, because I came to it not knowing anything, and I think it made the falling for it all the better.

I will say that it is about love, about family, about getting lost and finding your way back, its about art and artists, its about insecurities and doubt, secrets, lies, its about forgiveness and hope, loss and ghosts and dreams and love and freedom and self, all told through these amazing, unforgettable characters, and with an exquisitely slight brush of magical realism thrown in.

I want to know these characters. I want to eat donuts with Oscar and Guillermo, collect moon rocks with Noah and Brian, discuss magic and art and love with Jude, meet the “where the hell is Ralph” bird, Prophet, and see what happens on “the ark”.

I listened to this as an audio book, which I also would recommend. Julie Whalen is a favorite audio book/voice talent, and she was, as always, fantastic narrating Jude’s portion of the book. Jesse Bernstein was also exceptional narrating Noah’s side of things.

This will be the next book that I give to everyone, like God Shaped Hole, and say please read this.

My Weekly Top 10 :: Week of 4/14

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1. Blur

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All week I have been on a Blur kick, mostly Modern Life is Rubbish, The Great Escape and Leisure. I have been spinning them both all day at work, and also while I did some work on this space, and some other writings. This week’s two most played? Blue Jeans and Country House. They are the two I keep hitting rewind and repeat on. I love the guitars, the post-Kinks sensibility, that delicious 90’s Brit Pop that I think I love more now than I did in the 90’s. Can I also say that I have a heart-shaped, teenage crush on both Damon and Graham. How can I not? They are all kinds of darling, even if they were egotistical bastards back in the 90’s, too (looking at you, Damon). It is interesting to listen to Modern Life and realize that Stephen Street produced it, the same producer who famously worked with Morrissey and The Smiths. Even more interesting is to imagine how the album may have sounded if their label had gotten their way in using Butch Vig (Nirvana, Sonic Youth) to produce. How would it have sounded under his grungey gaze?

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2. Broad City

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I am only two episodes in, but I am so won over. Best friends who are flawed, funny, and what Two Broke Girls should be if it was a) written well, and b) about actual girls who are broke. So many moments I literally laughed coffee up my nose while watching (see: buying pot and pizza with a Home Depot gift card, the “I’m a baby” Fred Armisen). I often feel like I’m supposed to love Girls, that everyone I know loves Girls, but I couldn’t make it through the first episode. They were annoying and privileged and unrelatable to me. Maybe I’m too old, or spent my life too broke, but this is more in my wheelhouse. You can catch the show on Comedy Central (or Hulu, like I am), and they have pre-cable episodes on their YouTube channel, too.

Episode 1 :: Making Change

3. Supernatural

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I have been home sick all day and TNT has been running a Supernatural marathon. I remember when this show first came around and I scoffed at it because the promos looked like some kind of pre-fabricated, heart-throb, ghost chasers, like Scooby Doo meets Dawson’s Creek (hmmm…now I am kind of surprised I didn’t tune in).

When my husband and I first stated dating he had me sit down and watch the pilot, and I was enthralled.

The show has all the trappings of things I love, the supernatural (yeah, I know, the title makes that one obvious), constant pop culture references (even the episode titles!), sarcasm, humor, emotional and parental issues, and strong storytelling that has never faltered through all the seasons. Oh, and yes, Sam and Dean are attractive, as is their sidekick angel and king of Hell, but they are more than that – hell, they even have an episode dealing with fanfiction/slash fiction of their own characters, an intentional nod to the fandom (which, to be honest, scares me, but cheers to their passion – I’m sure my fandoms have scared others, too).

I think the episodes that weave humor into them are my favorite, though there has been a few favorites that also have had me in tears. I honestly can’t recommend this one enough.

The reworked opening theme for one of the Trickster episode

4. Movies in the Park

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It is that time of year again, when all the “Movies in the Park“, or “Outdoor Movies” starting popping up all over Los Angeles. They remind me of all the times I spent at the Drive-In, especially during the Summertime, all the memories and the movies I saw, or didn’t see, because I was busy not paying attention. I saw a lot of silly comedies, horror flicks and a few random blockbusters.

Though I wish that these did have a horror night (none of them seem to), they do have quite the line-up of indie, comedy, iconic 80’s and 90’s fare, and this year quite a few “anniversary” showings. The opening night at Street Food Cinema is just one of those – the 25th anniversary of Say Anything, which I’m excited to have tickets for. I also just picked up tickets to Eat See Hear’s opening night showing of 500 Days of Summer.

These movie-events start before the sun goes down, have food trucks and random vendors, and different bands and artists that perform. Sometimes they have special guests, like the Valley Girl one I took my daughters to that had the lead Valley Girl herself, Deborah Foreman there. Some of the nights are set-up just like Drive-In’s, where they allow you to bring your car in and have you tune in to the movie through your car stereo. I wish that I could partner with someone and host a few of these myself.

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5. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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I’m only about six chapters in, but I already adore it. The audio version is how I am consuming it, and it is well done. At first I was a little thrown off because one of the two voice talent is Rebecca Lowman, who also voiced Eleanor from Eleanor and Park (also by Rainbow Rowell), which I loved so much. When this audio book started, and I heard her voice, I actually said “hi Eleanor” out loud (yes, I talk to my audio books and podcasts in the car). The other voice talent? It is none other than Maxwell “Rex Manning” Caulfield, playing the narrator of the “fanfic” portions that lead character, Cath, writes. Cath is a diehard fangirl, a fanfic writer, and a twin. College has just begun and Cath’s twin Wren has decided it is time to “cut the cord” and “dump their shared fandom” and get her own dorm mate.

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Cath suffers from anxiety disorder, feels out-of-place on campus, is overwhelmed by all the changes, and also worries about her left behind Father who seems to be bipolar (I’m only about a third of the way into the book).

Rowell writes characters with such a realistic flair, and she creates a world that feels not only feels of the time and age of the characters, but of the emotions and inner complexities of the reader. She is quickly becoming one of my favorite new authors.

I last left Cath having an “Emergency Kanye Dance Party” with her dormmate’s “maybe” boyfriend after finding out she got an F from her Creative Writing teacher for turning in a piece of fanfiction – thus bringing up the dilemma of who owns the writing when the characters were originally created by someone else. Good stuff. And, as I’ve said before, if you haven’t indulged in an audiobook lately, or ever, you are missing out.

6. Fargo

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It seems the cable-trend this Spring is adapting movies into re-interpreted television series, and I have to say, so far, I’m digging it. I wrote last time about how much I’m enjoying From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, and now I’m here to say that Fargo was pretty damn good, too. With one hell of a cast (seriously, I can hardly count how many times I said “wait…was that…” while watching the pilot), the story takes place in the town of Fargo, and within that look and feel world that the movie created, but in this we meet a different cast of characters, my favorites (so far) being Molly, the Police Chief in training (and the strongest and bravest character on the show), played by Allison Tolman, and the eerie, violent and yet hilarious, Lorne, played by Billy Bob Thornton, and actor I typically have no tolerance for (so this says a lot about the writing and his performance).

The show hits you in those deep, dark places, as the movie did, and will have you laughing at things that you know you shouldn’t laugh at. The pilot seemed like a movie in itself, and could have been, it is so flushed out and self-contained, so that fact that it isn’t makes me all the more curious and excited to see where this story, and these characters, will go.

There are far too many shows on that I enjoy lately, and this is not helping the cause, at all.

7. Heartbreaker :: Ryan Adams

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Another album I can’t seem to get enough of is Ryan Adams’ 2000 album, Heartbreaker. An ever favorite of mine, it had been awhile since I’d listened to it in its entirety. The album is such a songwriting gem. Each song plays to me like a short story from an anthology collection, every character a bit bruised and broken, but still persisting, still wanting, still holding together their taped up heart. I had forgotten how much I love Shakedown on 9th Street and Call Me On Your Way Home – and just how fucking amazing are Come Pick Me Up and Oh My Sweet Carolina? 

The copy of the album I have I bought when I was in England. I bought it in this big music store, and spent a good fifteen minutes talking to the girl behind the counter about how much we loved Ryan’s music, what are favorite songs were, and how incredible it was to see him live. That entire trip I kept running into Ryan’s music, in the jukeboxes, the record stores we perused, and through my headphones on the plane home.

I wish Ryan would come tour soon. It’s been far too long.

Come Pick Me Up

8. Pop Culture Affidavit Podcasts

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Though I’ve known about my friend Tom’s Podcasts for awhile, it was not until this week that I finally got around to listen to them. I can’t believe it has taken THIS LONG to listen, but I’m happy I’m doing it now. If you like movies, television shows, music, 80’s and 90’s pop culture, and comics you will love these Podcasts. So far, I’ve listened to one on Say Anything, another on The Breakfast Club, one on Reality Bites, and a collaborative music one on Counting Crows album, August and Everything After. I would pick a favorite if that was even possible, but they have all been so awesome I just can’t pick!

There are many more to choose from, and I have a few already queued up for my long commute to and from work.

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This is the latest episode – listen here.

9. The ’59 Sound :: The Gaslight Anthem

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Another album of the week is The ’59 Sound, a past Quintessential Album featured here. This has been an “in my office” album that I traded back and forth with the two, previously mentioned, Blur albums. This is another album full of stories that delight my singer-songwriter fangirl heart. This week’s “hit rewind and replay” favorites from the album are Miles and the Cool and Here’s Looking at You, Kid.

Can Gaslight come and tour soon, too, please?

Here’s Looking at You, Kid

10. The Wolf of Wall StreetHonest” Trailer
courtesy of Charles 

Starting this week, and moving forward, I am giving #10 to my husband to share his “YouTube favorite of the week”. Charles is a purveyor of YouTube, and follows a ton of comedy and parody YouTubers, as well as a lot of comic/board games/movie themed channels. Near daily he tells me about the latest and greatest find on YouTube, playing them for me via our X-Box, so much so that I decided to give him this space to share one with all of you.

This one comes from Screen Junkies, who put together hilarious parody movie trailers to current and past popular movies. The one above is for the Scorsese and DiCaprio’s recent film, The Wolf of Wall Street – and his personal favorite moment is the Matthew McConaughey moment (push play, and you’ll see).

It is pretty funny, though I can’t help but think if Leo ever does win an Oscar what will all the Cinema mockers have to joke about?

My favorite of the Honest Trailers, if you want to look/watch more, are the Twilight ones.

Screen Junkies can be found here – click subscribe if you enjoy!

Turn Around Bright Eyes :: An Audio Book

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Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love & Karaoke by Rob Sheffield
An Audio Book Review
Listen to an Excerpt here

What I get out of karaoke is a little weirder than mere musical competence. It’s a love ritual that keeps me coming back, craving more, because this is where the songs are. And the songs are full of stories. Every one we sing is charged up with memories of the past or dreams of the future. Every song reminds me of good times or bad times. Yet they all hold surprises.”

The first time I got up to sing karaoke I was terrified, and then I as exhilarated. The exhilaration hit about halfway through the song, and after it was finished I found myself frantically searching the books for the “next song” to put in. It was at karaoke that I met my husband, who had been loving karaoke a lot longer and stronger than I had. Regardless, as our love grew, so did our shared love of karaoke. It is our go-to night out, one we chose to partake in the night before our wedding, and also during our first anniversary trip this year (yes, we are still kinda new marrieds, though we’ve been together longer). Due to this, and so much more, karaoke holds a very special place in my heart.

Rob Sheffield’s writing holds a special place there, as well.

When I first read Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time I was shattered in the very best kind of way. I honestly had never read anyone’s writing who connected to music the way I did, and wrote about it that way. It was magic to me, even when it was heartbreaking – and boy was it heartbreaking. I felt an instant connection that grew into a perceived kindred spirit, a music obsessive with a parochial school background who lost a spouse to death – there was a lot to feel akin to right there.

When I read Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man’s Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut I fell harder for Rob’s writing and the way he sees (and hears) the world. He wrote a book with Duran Duran in the title, one of my lifetime favorite bands, how could I resist? There was much more to it than just talking, and writing, about Duran Duran – so much more.

Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love & Karaoke is the perfect “next book” in the collection (I would say trilogy, but I am hoping for more). I was floored when I heard that Rob was writing a book themed around his love of karaoke – yet another connection. This was my first experience with an audio book of his work, and it was a delight especially since it was read by Rob himself. There is so much vulnerability in the stories he tells, made even more raw and real having them read by the author. There were times when the book made me cry, times when I was laughing hysterically, and times when I had to pull my car over to write down a song or a quote from the book.

In some ways this one was my favorite of the three, if only for the realistic happy ending (or “happy next beginning“) that Rob has found in his life. It reminds me of my own new chance at happiness I unexpectedly found in a karaoke bar. Rob gets music, feels music, the way I do and I cannot fully articulate how amazing that feels to read, and listen, to writing like that, for me. This one gets a huge “hell yes” recommendation from me.

“If all music did was bring the past alive, that would be fine. You can hide away in music and let it recapture memories of things that used to be. But music is greedy and it wants more of your heart than that. It demands the future, your future. Music wants the rest of your life. So you can’t rest easy. At any moment, a song can come out of nowhere to shake you up, jump-start your emotions, ruin your life.” 

Total Eclipse of the Heart :: Bonnie Tyler

and for the fun of it:

Total Eclipse of the Heart – karaoke version

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My Weekly Top Ten :: The Week of October 21

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1. Books and Nachos Podcast

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I have a significantly long commute to and from work in which I combat the horror of Los Angeles freeway traffic with playlists, audio books, and my new addition/addiction, podcasts. I am new to the podcast world, or at least to the auditory enjoyment of them (I have known of them being around for quite awhile) and am on the look out for good ones (please share your recommendations in the comments). I recently discovered “Books & Nachos”, and enjoyed two of their installments on my way home tonight – one on the Stephen King book, Carrie, and one on the Robert Bloch book Psycho (both movies I love, but both books I have yet to read – but now very much want to); I can’t wait to listen to more.

2. Sons of Anarchy :: Season One

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I go back and forth between reading and watching Netflix on my phone during my lunch hour. I recently finished the Netflix series Orange is the New Black (loved it, please come soon Season 2), and was in the mood for something a) a little rough around the edges, b) well-written, and c) with more than one season. I had heard good things about Sons of Anarchy, and I have always liked Ron Perlman and Katy Sagal, so onward with Season one. I am one episode in and am already hooked, some incredible performances already, and it is more than rough around the edges – also, who knew the British kid from Undeclared would grow up into someone so talented, and well, easy on the eyes?

3. Wicked Game :: Emika

I love a good cover song, and this one certainly qualifies. Haunting, ethereal and gorgeously lush, this cover of Chris Isaak’s 90’s staple (which I love enormously) was used to play over the end of this week’s episode of The Blacklist. A friend and co-worker sleuthed it out today and shared it with me, and I have been hitting replay ever since.

4. Orange is the New Black :: My Year In a Woman’s Prison by Piper Kerman and audio by Cassandra Campbell (Audiobook)

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After finishing Rob Sheffield’s latest I needed a new audiobook, and I honestly was not ready to let go of Piper and the gang, so the choice sort of made itself. So far, I have noticed the changes/liberties made, and some of the initial similarities. Piper has just surrendered and is meeting with who is Healy in the show, where there has been line-by-line same dialogue, though prior to this there has been a great deal more Piper backstory, and six years between being finding out she was going to have to serve time, and actually starting to serve.

5. The One That Got Away :: The Civil Wars

I stumbled on this song while perusing EW.com’s Spotify Playlist, TV Jukebox and I feel pretty hard for it. I love the unexpected twist to the “one that got away” sentiment. I know there are a few people that I wish had gotten away, for certain.

6. Gillian Anderson & David Duchovny

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It makes me unspeakably happy to see pictures of Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny in the recent Reunion themed issue of Entertainment Weekly, as well as all the photos and sound bites from their appearance at the New York Comic Con. It makes me want to have a marathon re-watch of the series, though I know what a huge undertaking that is. They still hold such a special place in my heart, yes, yes they do.

7. Carol, The Walking Dead

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Added to my list of all-time fictional heroes is Carol from The Walking Dead. A survivor in more ways than zombie apocalypse wise, she is strong and brave, takes action, follows her heart, has a moral compass and a sense of humor, and takes a leadership role with confidence and intelligence. We need more female characters like this one.

8. Devil in the Details :: Bright Eyes

It has been awhile since I lost myself in Bright Eyes’ Digital Ash for a Digital Urn, but it was time, yes, I think it was time again. This is the song that I cannot seem to shake this week. It keeps calling to me, sticking in my head, asking to be replayed again, and again.

9. Piper Chapman, Netflix’s Orange is the New Black

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I don’t want to like Piper most of the time. She makes bad choices, acts selfish, is careless with love and has issues being alone and feeling abandoned, oh, and she wants everyone to like her too much. Truth is, though, I see a lot of myself in Piper, more than I care to admit, a lot more, actually (is that why I don’t want to like her so much of the time?).

10. Misty Day, American Horror Story Coven

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So what if I already mentioned Misty Day in a past week’s Top Ten, she is still in my Top Ten this week, too. Oh my, do I love this character, her relationship to music, her obsession with Stevie Nicks, her vulnerability and raw loneliness, she is my favorite this season, and the most complex (so far) of the characters. And admittedly, I have quite a character crush on her (how can I not?)

The Beginning of Everything :: An Audio Book Review

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The Beginning of Everything :: Robyn Schneider
An Audio Book Review
Listen to an excerpt here

Sometimes I think that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them, that the people buying milk in their pajamas or picking their noses at stoplights could be only moments away from disaster. That everyone’s life, no matter how unremarkable, has a moment when it will become extraordinary-a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen..”

Ezra believes that within everyone’s life a tragedy lies waiting, and that only after said tragedy occurs does one’s life truly begin. Or, maybe, that is just how he wants to see the world since tragedy has befallen the once “golden boy” of Eastwood high school, a fictional school in a fictional Orange County town that seems very much like the Irvine I grew up close by to. Ezra’s tragedy changes his life drastically, and it is now up to him to decide how it changes him within that life.

This is more than the typical coming-of-age story, and it is more than the young adult label may suggest, this is a book about living at any age, about loss and love, and about figuring out who you are deep down inside, and not just who you are to the world around you. It will most likely be categorized on the “if you like John Green” shelf, which is not a wrong summation, but I think it is unique in its voice, style and character, as well.

My initial love for this book came to me because of location. The setting, though fictionally named, is the area of Southern California that I came of age in. I know this place, and the inhabitants that live and grow there. I know the streets and the landmarks, the sound of the Disneyland fireworks, the fear of coyotes and the wealth backed right up to the migrant worker groves. I also know the pressure of the schools and students who live there, and the perceptions that so many try to live up to, or at least survive within.

This book reads immediate, as if it was written yesterday, with nods to songs and bands, fads and technology. There are silent flash mobs, Doctor Who references, pep rallys to Vampire Weekend and make-out sessions to Bon Iver songs. And, there are philosophy and literary references that delight the book geek in me. The book overflows in pop culture in just the way that I adore.

The characters are the kind that creep in and stick to my heart, especially Ezra and Toby. I loved their friendship, the complexities and ebb and flow that often happens to friends who meet in childhood and drift during adolescence. Theirs was my favorite relationship, and I was glad to see it transcend throughout the span of the story. I was also partial to Ezra and his dog, Cooper, very much a “boy and his dog” emotional tug that had me literally in tears at a certain point. I also loved that Ezra and Cooper had a Nick and Jay Gatsby relationship (loved The Great Gatsby references).

Cassidy, the girl who comes into Ezra’s life at the post-tragedy turning point was a tough one for me. I wanted to like her, I wanted her to come around in the end and be something more for herself, and for Ezra, but she never did. There were shades of the “manic pixie girl” to her (I vehemently hate that term though), and at times she struck me as a teenage version of Clementine (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), except not as likable, to me. Though, I will say that the wanting to like her and not ever getting there was unique, and in some ways I welcomed it. She was part of Ezra’s journey, and not every part of our epic life journeys include people who stick and stay forever.

My two complaints are that I wish the author had stuck to the initial title of the book, Severed Heads, Broken Hearts, which I think fit so much more and has a more unique punch to it. Also, the narrator, Dan John Miller, while fabulous as Ezra, was terrible when doing the girl’s voices. It came across as a bad parody of a 1980’s Valley Girl and was often times distracting to the female dialogue.

Beyond these minor complaints, I loved the book, the characters, the references, the setting, and the relationships. Ezra and Toby are now part of my list of favorite fictional characters, and Cooper, on a new list of favorite fictional dogs.

Oscar Wilde once said that to live is the rarest thing in the world, because most people just exist, and that’s all. I don’t know if he’s right, but I do know that I spend a long time existing, and now, I intend to live.”

Middlesex :: An Audio Book Review

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
An Audio Book Review
Listen to an Excerpt here

Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever. ”

Nature versus nurture, questions of gender, and the ideal of “normal” has always been an interest of mine, one that has grown as I have grown, life changes and occurrence ever adding to my questioning whether “normal” even exists, what makes us unique, and what influences the person we become. Gender has always been an interest, the power and the influence, the detriment, the ideologies and expectations. Beyond that, though, the myth of “normal” and the idea that we are trapped by genetics is something that I have bucked against, for myself, and for my children, especially my son who exists on the autism/aspergers spectrum and who is constantly judged by an invisible spectrum of normal that we have to constantly choose to fight against, or live within.

I was beginning to understand something about normality. Normality wasn’t normal. It couldn’t be. If normality were normal, everybody could leave it alone. They could sit back and let normality manifest itself. But people-and especially doctors- had doubts about normality. They weren’t sure normality was up the job. And so they felt inclined to give it a boost.”

Callie/Cal Stephanides is our brilliant host and narrator, who leads the reader through an epic journey of love, loss, change, circumstance, choice, fate and gender. Born with a mutation of the fifth chromosome which makes her appear at a birth to be a girl, although she is, in fact, biologically and hormonally a boy, Callie/Cal shares her experiences from the perspective of 41 years of living through what fate and free will have brought. We meet a cast of characters that span generations of love, loss and life told with such compassion, wit and vulnerability that very quickly I found myself attached to the Stepanides family. I looked forward to each subsequent chapter in their lives, dreading the time that I knew would eventually come when the book would be over, knowing full well that this family would carry on living within me for a long time after.

This is one of my first experiences with a multi-generational spanning novel and I have to say it was a fantastic journey. I found myself so deeply engrossed with the first story, the tale of Desdemona and Lefty, their unorthodox relationship and on-ship “courtship” and marriage, the tragic fires of Smyrna, and their relocation to Prohibition-era Detroit. I loved these characters so much, and had equal parts frustration and compassion for both Desdemona and Lefty, that I was unsure how I would feel when the story shifted focus to their son Milton, his wife Tessie, and their children. They were so well-written and vivid and wonderful that I fell for them just as much, in some ways even more so.

It was Callie/Cal, though, that had my heart, from the very first line, to the very last. The struggles, the triumphs, the acts of defiance, of passion, of desperation and of survival was life affirming, and inspiring. What I found most amazing about the story of Callie/Cal was how the struggles were so relatable, so universal, and collectively human. The story, for me, transcended a struggle with gender identity, and became about human identity, and had me remembering my own search of self in my adolescence, my young adulthood, and even now, in my forties. The need to connect, the sometimes confusion of attraction and intimacy, and the struggle to be an authentic “you” is not something specific, nor unique, to either gender, but to all of us.

Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”

From an Audio Book perspective, this book was exceptional. Kristoffer Tabori was by far one of my top favorite audio book narrators/voice actors I have ever experienced. He was the characters, each and every one of them. Not once – at all – was there a disconnect, or a feeling of “oh he is just doing a voice” – no, he was all of them, and his unique voice by character aged uniquely with each, as well. The use of music that was interspersed throughout the novel was effective and evocative. The music helped to shift the story, the time, the location, and the mood of it all, a nice touch, one I had not experienced before this book.

I have not stopped thinking about this book since I finished it about a week past. The characters, the story, and the feelings it surfaced in me, are buzzing and burning in me still. A sure sign of a fantastic read, isn’t it? The kind you never really want to say goodbye to, the kind you never truly want to end.

But in the end it wasn’t up to me. The bigs things never are. Birth, I mean, and death. And love. And what love bequeaths to us before we’re born.”

Begin the Beguine :: Cole Porter & Ella Fitzgerald

In the Pleasure Groove – Love, Death and Duran Duran :: An Audio Book Review

In the Pleasure Groove by John Taylor

In the Pleasure Groove – Love, Death and Duran Duran (2012) by Nigel John Taylor (written with Tom Sykes)
An Audio Book Review
Listen to an excerpt here

This was a fantastic moment for hair color, as the Crazy Color and Manic Panic hair-dye brands had been launched the previous year and had definitely helped us define our look. Simon was no longer a blond, he was now a brunette, which gave an opening for Nick to go all the way blond. Andy trail blazed the black-and-blond two-tone skunk look that Kajagoogoo’s Limahl would popularize, and Roger was adding blue to his black. I set up camp in the Bordeaux/Burgundy corner. I’ve always felt the best haircuts come courtesy of a devoted girlfriend, and Andy would marry Tracey eventually.”

Most people who know me, and nearly everyone who has been in my life since I was an adolescent, knows of my love for Duran Duran. They were not just my teenage dream, first fandom, crush-worthy fascination, their music helped shape my own art, their musical influences helped to widen my own music taste and collection, and in many ways they helped save a shy and lonely girl’s life who was struggling with making sense of her sexuality and sense of self as she tried to survive an abusive upbringing. They were my constant and my aspirations, and in many ways, my hope. And, well, yes, they were hot as hell, but they were also damn good musicians, songwriters, artists and poets.

Since hearing about this book being published I have been curious to read it. I will admit that John was never my favorite (I was a Nick girl) and the two times I actually met him he had not left a positive impression on me. I also was quite certain that all my years of being a fan had left me with all the knowledge and history of the band, and I did wonder what more was left to learn. I still was interested though, and I am glad I persisted and got my hands (and ears) on the audio version – the book not only reawakened my love for the band, but made me realize how very little I actually did know about their history, and also, that my opinions about John Taylor, and what I had perceived about him, were premature and, in many ways, incorrect.

Three things stood out the most to me as I made my through the autobiography. The first thing is that the music that inspired Duran Duran throughout their career makes up many of my favorite singers, bands and sounds, and that when I listen, truly listen, I can hear where one lead to another, from one song to the the one inspired, and how that sound evolved.

Secondly, the work it takes to be clean and sober is staggering to me, and inspiring in itself. Listening to John, himself, recount his history with addiction, and the discipline and constant attention it takes to remain a non-active user, made me also realize that I should probably go back into therapy myself, not due to addiction, but due to so much of my life being so close to addiction. It is not just addicts that need the help recovering.

Lastly, I found myself with a new sense of appreciation for the band from a different point of view. I hear different things in the music now, hear each instrument stand out on its own, and I digest the lyrics with a new insight, too. I find myself listening as if it were the first time, and I am loving the experience of it.

I have not read many biographies, though this has me itching to find another good one to dive into. I enjoyed the personal look into a musician’s life, from childhood through adolescence and into the growing up in the midst of sudden fame. The stories of John’s parents were especially moving, and the last chapter about his father actually had me in tears.

It was a bonus that the Audio Book is voiced by John. It felt indulgent and at times alluring to listen to his voice telling his story. He possesses disarming blend of honest reflection, warmth, humility and self-­deprecating humor. Some of the honesty I am certain is part and parcel to the rehabilitated life, nonetheless it was refreshing, and very humanizing; at times it felt as if I was listening to recalled stories from some of my own friends.

Oh, there was a fourth thing I nearly forgot, I may have developed a bit of a teenage dream crush on the adult John Taylor (sorry, Nick, you were still my first). Hey, you are never too old for teenage dream crushes!

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Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham :: An Audio Book Review

Someday Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham

 

Someday, Someday, Maybe (2013) by Lauren Graham
An Audio Book Review
Listen to an excerpt here

You may be sensitive inside, but what I see on the outside is a soldier.”

Lauren Graham is on my list of favorite people, in the “people I don’t know” category, mainly due to the roles she has played, most notably as the character of Lorelei Gilmore (Gilmore Girls) and Sarah Braverman (Parenthood), but also for the “personality” I have garnered through interviews (not that I take to heart public facing personas, but still). When I heard she had written a book I was ecstatic, and anxious to read it. To say I had high expectations would be an understatement. I bought both the actual book, as well as the audio book, and started with the latter (voiced by Lauren Graham, herself).

Initially, in that first chapter or so, I was admittedly disappointed. I felt as if the character was written with too much internal dialogue (something I am guilty of myself, as a writer) and also felt that, at first, the character was contrived, and bordering on too many stereotypes. As the story unfolded, though, I changed my mind. Franny started to come into full focus, and become quite recognizable to me, which started to hit me as to why I may have been put off by Franny at the start. I was about Franny’s age in 1995, was a theater student in college, and was dealing with my own share of relationship and personal issues.

There are moments so cringe-worthy I felt myself physically reacting, moments again that were so relatable and refreshingly vulnerable that I felt like I really knew Franny, and understood so clearly what it felt like to be in those days, those struggles, and those ticking of time deadlines and dreams realities. Listening to Lauren read the book I will admit did often blur the lines between reader and character, and I know that I picture Lauren as Franny/Franny as Lauren in my head, but I never did take it as an auto-biography.

Franny sometimes reminded me of another 90’s character struggling to find her way, and live her dreams – Lelaina from Reality Bites. There were dynamics in the friendships and romantic relationships that were reminiscent of that film, and time period, as well.

My favorite moments are those with Franny and her roommates, Jane and Dan. Though the love triangle that emerges is predictable, in this story it worked and though I saw it coming a mile away, I truly enjoyed the unfolding of it all. I also immensely enjoyed the evolution of relationship between Franny and Penelope, and how the way Franny perceived Penelope evolved as Franny started to change, and see herself differently. The movie premiere the crux and climax of all of Franny’s relationships that was brought to light between a Franny and Penelope exchange, one of my favorite shared character moments.

I will say that many times during the story I found myself thinking this would be a better television show than book, not that I did not enjoy the story, but because there was something just screaming to be shown on a screen to me. Good thing, I suppose, as it will be a television series in the future, produced by Ellen DeGeneres, and teleplay penned by Lauren herself. I look forward to it, though I do have to wonder who they will cast as Franny (part of me will be wishing for it to be Lauren herself, though I know the age will never work).

Read the book first though, I implore you, especially if you lived through the 90’s, if you sometimes miss the days of no cell phones-pay phones-answering machines, and if you were ever a theater geek who also argued over the impact of the Phantom of the Opera’s chandelier versus the actors’ performances. In the end, I loved Franny, I cheered her on, and when the story just faded mid-conversation, I wanted more.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky :: Audio book review

Perks

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Audio book voiced by Noah Galvin

It was 2002 when I first read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. We were living in Michigan and I was pregnant with my younger daughter, and I remember that the weather seemed to be always too cold and my friends were all too far away. I felt lonely a lot of the time, and I spent a great deal of time writing, reading and watching movies. Funny thing is, I do not recall a single thing about the book, though I do have one vivid memory of a time I was reading it, but all the memory is of is holding the book, not what was going on inside of it.

After recently seeing the film (which I loved) I decided a re-read of the book was in order, but since I have quite a stack (both real and virtual) of books on my never-ending “to-read” list I decided to go the audio book route, especially since this would be a “re-read“. I do love the experience of audio books, especially during my often long commutes back-and-forth to work. There is something very indulgent and comforting about listening to audio books, reminiscent of being a child and being read to, something that I have lovely memories of from time spent at my Grandparents house when I was a young girl.

The reader, Noah Galvin, played a great Charlie, and moved me to quite a gamut of emotions while he told the tale in the “Dear Friend” letter form. I actually feel as if, now that the book is over, that I will miss hearing Charlie talk to me about his life as I drive the Los Angeles freeways everyday. There was something so personal in the experience of hearing the character of Charlie that feels almost more intimate than if I had re-read the words on a page, almost as if Charlie became a friend, and confidante, and I both, to him.

Good books will do that, though, regardless of how you take them in. So many literary characters that I have met in my life as a reader have become so important and vital, and to “borrow” a Charlie-ism, infinite, that they do become almost as influential, and meaningful, as people one meets in a lifetime. I know that I carry a gaggle of characters around me from books, films, television series, and even songs that are part of my cabal of souls, they make-up pieces of who I am, and act as muse in my own writing and creating.

There is something so familiar to me in Charlie, at times painfully so, from the way he sees the world from a often silent distance, to the way he lets people do things to him (whether he wants them to, or not), to his emotional connections to music, and his intuitive nature towards people around him, to his past history with familial sexual abuse, and even his love of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Despite the familiarity, though, I learned things from Charlie about myself that I had neglected to ever see clearly, and at times I would pull the car over to the side of the road, near breathless, rewinding the book to replay certain words in order for them to sink in even deeper, and for me to gather clearly what they were saying to me. Sometimes it would take hours to shake Charlie from my skin when I would go off into my day, and I would find myself writing my own “Dear Friend” kind of writings that would become unsent letters to no one. There were moments when Charlie’s words broke me, and other times when I felt like they were helping to heal me.

I have to wonder if the time I read it before I was just not ready for the feelings the book would evoke. Perhaps I distanced myself so much from Charlie that first time around because he felt so close to who I have been in my life, turning myself numb to the words and shedding them near immediately. I do not know for sure, except that the way the book has made me feel now, and the way it has changed me, I just cannot imagine ever forgetting it. But, as with everything in life, we take things in the way we need to take them in, and we can only change when we are ready to.

I wish I could thank Charlie and Sam and Patrick, and I suppose Stephen Chbosky, too, and let them all know that I will carry those last words around for a long, long time and that reading them on the on certain early mornings with the sky grey and cloudy and the music turned up high, I do feel infinite.

So, if this does end up being my last letter, please believe that things are good with me, and even when they’re not, they will be soon enough.
And I will believe the same about you.
Love always, Charlie

Asleep :: The Smiths