Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Reviews #23-27: Strayed, Martin, Attenberg, Shaprio, Mignola & Golden

tiny-beautiful-things-sugar-strayedTiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

Sugar is magic. Cheryl Strayed’s online (and originally anonymous) alter-ego has a way of dispensing advice that speaks directly to one’s core. Through the questions posed to her about love, lust, and loneliness, she tells stories about her own life that are a blow to the chest. Her honesty is wrapped in gentle, hard truths that are applicable beyond the specific question-writer.

Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of many of the columns that originally appeared on The Rumpus, as well as several previously unpublished questions. Strayed also talks a bit about the how/why she decided to take on this writing gig, and also her thought process leading into shedding Sugar’s anonymity. Even though I had already read many of the columns when they first posted, going over them again felt nearly as potent. This book is a lovely addition for anyone who has ever asked, Am I okay?

StoriesForBoys_CoverStories For Boys: A Memoir by Gregory Martin

I read this touching memoir in one sitting. Beginning with the suicide attempt of his father, Gregory Martin discovers why the man who raised him has reached this point. Not only was his father sexually abused as a child, but he has also been a closeted gay man throughout the entirety of his 39 year marriage. He has admitted to Martin’s mother that he has sought out “hundreds” of unknown partners at parks and rest stops while traveling and while the rest of the family slept at home. Because they lived in Spokane, Washington, the settings were very familiar to me, having myself lived there for several years.

Though the book focuses on Martin’s perspective and not his father’s, this isn’t a simple story of “troubled man comes out” — this is about a father and a son having to navigate an almost entirely new relationship. It’s an interesting exploration of memory, identity, and empathy, and I’m glad I read it.

(Full Disclosure: Hawthorne Books provided me with the e-book for review.)

middlesteins-jami-attenbergThe Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

I’ve followed Jami Attenberg’s work online for several years now, but I must admit that this is the first novel of hers that I’ve read (a gap I plan to remedy soon). The Middlesteins is, so far, also her most successful book, and for good reason. She has written a family saga that feels very grounded in reality, centered around matriarch Edie. Edie cannot stop eating or obsessing over food, and it is severely affecting her health. Her husband, Richard, after decades of marriage, leaves her, and now her adult children are wondering how they can care for her and process their parents’ split, all while managing their own complicated lives.

One of the things I loved about the book is that Attenberg does not write caricatures. In the hands of lesser writers, a character like Edie could have dissolved into one-dimensional stereotype, but she is a whole person full of humor and love. The other family members, with all their quirks and problems, receive the same honest treatment. Though the plot deals with serious subject matter, it’s also a very funny book.

the-art-forger-shapiroThe Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

I picked up this novel on whim from the new books section at the library, and it was a lovely surprise. Using the real life art heist from the Isabella Gardner Museum in 1990, B.A. Shapiro has created a fictionalized story about a disgraced painter, Claire, who has been asked by a famous gallery owner to copy a Degás — the same Degás stolen from the museum. However, the more time Claire spends with this ill-begotten painting, the more she suspects that it may also be a forgery.

Because I’m a sucker for heist stories and because I’m quite interested in visual art, I enjoyed unraveling the mystery of what had really happened during the time of the theft and in the 19th century when the painting was originally created. There’s a whole side-plot about why Claire has a poor reputation in the art world that is also quite interesting, and though I could work out some of the twists on my own, the complete ending still held plenty of surprises.

father-gaetano-mignolaFather Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden

A friend recommended this novella for our book club selection, and I’m so pleased that she did because I’m not sure it would have otherwise crossed my attention. Set during WWII, Father Gaetano is assigned as the sole priest in a small Sicilian village, where not only must he conduct every mass, he must also see after the spiritual care of the many orphans who are now living at the church. To better engage the children in their catechism lessons, he brings up an old puppet set from the basement. What he doesn’t know is that the puppets believe that the stories are real, and after dark they appear without strings. What happens next is a series of disturbing events that affect everyone involved, all while subtly mirroring the national turmoil surrounding the village.

Though I am not well-versed in Catholic symbolism, I found Father Gaetano utterly compelling. Told from the points-of-view of the priest, a nun, and one sensitive boy who lives there, we are able to understand different ways how one can question their faith, and how they react when bravery is required. It’s a quick read interspersed with dark illustrations, and is yet another example of my need to occasional widen my reading repertoire.

(This post originally appeared on Persephone Magazine.)

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Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #22: The Queen: A Life in Brief by Robert Lacey

The Queen: A Life in Brief by Robert LaceyWith a newly arrived Royal Baby (capitalization probably required), it seems appropriate to read about the child’s great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. What got me picking up this indeed brief book, however, was The King’s Speech. I’d finished watching it on Netflix and remembered seeing screenwriter David Seidler on Charlie Rose when the film was first released. He said that he’d wanted to explore the story of King George VI’s stutter and relationship to his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, but that the Queen mother asked him to wait until she died. Then, of course, she went on to live a total 102 years. Nine years later, The King’s Speech won 4 Oscars, 7 BAFTAs, 1 Golden Globe, and 2 SAG awards. It is an outstanding film, and I wanted some additional information about the family.

I’ve never really been a royalist, but my interest stems from how odd their insular experience must be. In The King’s Speech, the Queen Mother, then the Duchess of York (played by Helena Bonham Carter), makes a joke that being royalty is like “indentured servitude,” which isn’t too far off — though it’s still a very pampered, privileged life, despite its obligations. The Queen: A Life in Brief condenses much of the information found in Robert Lacey’s other book, Monarch (also known as Royal, in the Great Britain edition), which was the basis for the Helen Mirren film, The Queen. When a family is so private, the sources all seem to feed into one another.

(See the rest of my review at Glorified Love Letters.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #21: Supernatural Strategies for Forming a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group by Ivan F. Svenious

Supernatural Strategies for Forming a Rock n Roll Group by I.F. SveniousWhat a delightfully odd little book this is. Presented as an old manual mixed with a narrator that’s rather Lemony-Snicket-meets-Ted-WilsonSupernatural Strategies For Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group manages to be just as funny as it is strange. Throughout, Ian F. Svenious injects enough knowing truth that anyone who has ever involved themselves with musicians will recognize.

The idea is this: During a séance, the ghost of The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones offered advice on forming a group, “accompanied by a vague scent of Moroccan spice and the rustling sound of suede on corduroy.” I let out an audible Ha!when I read the following:

Can we somehow become renowned without dying?
Faking one’s death is an obvious route, and is often accomplished — albeit in a metaphorical sense — in collusion with the PR Industry. First one must create a record which is sensationally acclaimed. Then one must explode at the apex of its career.
[…]The La’s, the Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine, the Sex Pistols, and The Specials all successfully used this virtual death technique to ensure renown, as did David Bowie when he fired his group Spiders From Mars onstage while their concert was being filmed at the Hammersmith Odeon for theatrical release.

Which is, of course, completely true until festival season 25 years from that “death,” when the living members of three-quarters of those bands reunite for a bit of Rock ‘n’ Roll Church at Glastonbury or Coachella. A tidy profit and a bit of personal nostalgia — They can be loved as before.

(Lest you think I’m making fun: With Noel Gallagher as my witness, I would succumb to my own metaphorical perishing if I could see the Stone Roses live.)

(See the rest of my review at Glorified Love Letters.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #20: THE UNSEEN by Katherine Webb

The Unseen by Katherine WebbIn the early 1900s, spiritualism was a popular religious movement in the United States and portions of Europe. Its adherents believed in spirits from another world that could appear and communicate with ours, if the conditions were right. Reports of seeing faeries and other non-human creatures appeared in magazines such as The Strand, and perhaps the most famous tale was the Cottingly Faeries, a series of five photos faked by two sisters in 1917 and 1920. Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed in their authenticity and wrote about them, and it wasn’t until decades later that the sisters admitted to using cardboard figures propped up with hat pins. People wanted to believe, and that made facts and doubts easier to ignore.

Katherine Webb’s 2012 novel, The Unseen, occurs primarily in 1911 England, about a decade before spiritualism’s decline in popularity. In it, the vicar, Albert Canning, and his wife, Hester, have just hired a new housemaid, Cat Morely. Cat is a small, sickly, and quiet young woman coming from a mysterious, questionable past. Hester — “Hetty” — tries to ask cat about why she was in prison, but Cat would rather not say, not at first. The Cannings view her employment as an act of charity.

(See the rest of my review at Persephone Magazine.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Reviews #16-19

Forgive me for a link dump, friends, but let me get caught up on where my book reviews have appeared lately…

ultimate-guide-prostate-pleasure-199x300Book #16: The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure by Charlie Glickman and Aislinn Emirzian

(Because sometimes review copies turn up in the mail, and I think, “Huh. Okay. We’ll give this a whirl.”)

My full review can be found at Persephone Magazine: “Feminist sex guides aimed at men: They exist, y’all.”

 

 

unchangeable-spots-leopards-jansmaBook #17: The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

(As recommended by Pajiba’s own Joanna Robinson.)

My full review can be found at Glorified Love Letters:The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is not terribly long for a novel, which makes it all the more amazing that Kristopher Jansma is able to weave together so much simultaneous information and mystery. I loved it, and I will eagerly await any other books he may release in the future.”

pain-parties-work-plathBook #18: Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder

My full review can be found at P-Mag: “If Pain, Parties, Work is supposed to be a commentary on the whole of standards applied to young women, then the followup interviews with her fellow guest editors make sense. We find out about how the magazine work informed the rest of their lives, and how the women handled it in different ways. If it’s supposed to be a book about how this time broke the “sunny” girl, then there’s not enough information. A major Sylvia Plath fan may still enjoy this book for whatever new facts they might glean, but for anyone else, one might be better off sticking to Plath’s actual work.”

suite-encounters-hotel-sex-busselBook #19: Suite Encounters edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

My full review can be found at Glorified Love Letters: “I can’t tell you your own desires, but I can tell you that I liked it. The hotel room is a fantastic setting around which to assemble a short stories (erotica or otherwise), and Suite Encounters (if you’ll forgive my word play here) provides above-and-beyond service.”

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #15: This Close: Stories by Jessica Francis Kane

This Close: Stories by Jessica Francis Kane (cover)Not many short story collections are entirely wonderful. One or two stories, while not necessarily un-enjoyable, usually feel like filler. And yet, Jessica Francis Kane’s new collection, This Close, is quite near perfect. It left me wishing for one more story, which likely means that the length of the book is exactly right. Twelve stories, some related and some standalone, navigate the yearning for connection and the complex interior lives that we all have.

 

(My full review appears on Glorified Love Letters.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #14: Looking For The Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco

Looking-For-The-Gulf-Motel-BlancoMy review of Looking For The Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco recently appeared on The Rumpus. Here’s an excerpt:

Look, perhaps we should have more open lusting for poets, yeah? If that is someone’s gateway into a poet’s work, then so be it. We all need more poetry in our lives.

All right, now that I’ve got all that off my chest, can I also tell you that I really enjoy Looking for The Gulf Motel? Yes, I do. Truly. It hits all my thematic hot spots — love, lust, and loneliness. Blanco revels in memory and intimacy, and much like Tracy K. Smith’s poetry, his work makes me want to bed down and stay.