The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman

If you’re not familiar with Alice Hoffman, it’s time to rectify that. And please don’t judge her based on the film adaptation of Practical Magic, because as chicky and fun as that movie was, it felt like a huge divergence from what had been put on the page...and as such, the movie was lacking.

    Her latest novel is so enticing and haunting that I could barely put it down. It surrounds the lives of three sisters, Elv, Meg, and Claire Story, from their early teen years into adulthood. Some of Hoffman’s recurring themes pop up yet again as welcome as old friends. Their mother has a garden in which they spend a lot of their time, they talk about the color of the light and the scents on the air and each other...they are tuned in to what gets lost too often during a busy adult life.

    Elv, the oldest, has created a fantasy world that the girls live in for a while. It sprung up suddenly and out of nowhere on what Elv and Claire refer to as “The Bad Day” - a day that Meg was thankfully absent from, but which defined all of their lives nonetheless. They all grow up in its shadow (even Meg and their mother, from whom Elv and Claire keep the day a secret) and it effects each in her own way. Elv becomes more reckless and frantic, Claire blames herself and turns inward, Meg feels more and more alienated until ultimately she can no longer relate to either of her sisters. Their mother watches helplessly as her girls grow up and away - because she does not know what happened, she cannot begin to help them heal.

    Details unfold as new friends and boyfriends enter their lives through the stories they tell each other. Stories that are interlaced with magic (dresses made by hand that glow with moonlight, fairies, demons) and superstition. Generations of women come together to help the girls find their way, bringing with them their own superstitions and intentions.

    I read this in the course of a few days and noticed as my perception changed: at first Elv was remarkable and untouchable, Claire was delicate, and Meg was certain to be the voice of reason who snapped them all out of it. But, as happens too often in real life, things spiral out of control and the unexpected becomes routine. By the end I found myself wondering what would happen had I been their mother: would I have known instinctually that very evening that a life altering Bad Day had occurred? Would I know what to do if the lives of my children splintered in a way I’d never imagined? Would I be able - as their mother is - to ask for help? I would venture to say that those who have watched someone unravel will find this book resonating more than those who do not have that experience to draw on. Either way, it’s a book that you can open up and fall into. Hoffman creates worlds we’d all like to walk through now and then, and The Story Sisters is no exception.


The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

     Let me just start by saying that Sarah Vowell is ridiculously smart. She’s also funny, engaging, and charming. I would love to be able to claim that I came to know her  - and by “know her” I mean recognize her name as a smarty-pants author/editor/NPR voice- through, well, those very things. But no. The first thing I think of when I hear “Sarah Vowell” (or her distinct voice) is Violet Parr. You know who she is:

Right. So then I realized that as a regular NPR listener I knew who she was. And a few years ago my mom read (and recommends) Assassination Vacation...so when I heard that this witty woman had tackled one of my favorite subjects I had to add it to my To Be Read List.

What subject is that, you ask? Why, it’s the Puritans and the settling of the colonies, of course! The Wordy Shipmates takes place primarily in the 1630s with the emigration from England of the Arbella and it’s passengers ultimate settling of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (You know that as Boston) and the strife therein. After all, they are Puritans. The government they set up was certainly religion-based, with the laws equating to the ten commandments...which is all well and good when you’re up against a murderer or a thief, but not so good when you’re up against someone who’s committing blasphemy, which often led to banishment. And Rhode Island. That’s right, Vowell covers not just Boston, but Rhode Island as well.

There is also the question of The Natives. Keeping in mind that this particular story takes place almost twenty years after the Pilgrims and their Thanksgiving, as well as the fact that the new Puritans feel that the Small Pox outbreak cleansed the land and left it wide open for their settlement...and you end up with a lot of blood soaking the ground. But I won’t spoil it. Vowell’s rendition reads like a series of gang wars, only with cannons and wigwams.

Overall, the only thing I can think of that would have made this book better would have been a timeline at the back I could refer to, as Vowell bounces back and forth a little bit to keep the narrative of the particular situation fluid. I want to gift this to anyone who is currently studying United States History in school because it’s infinitely more interesting than any history text I ever encountered.

But you don’t have to take my word for it... she's very convincing on The Daily Show.


The Color of Law by Mark Giminez

    It is no secret from the moment you crack the cover on this book that it was inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird. As far as inspiration for a debut novel goes, one could do significantly worse than the illustrious Harper Lee.  Giminez, himself a lawyer, has set this modern-day Lawyer’s tale in Dallas...Murder Mystery + Dallas = Win in my book. Add to that equation fully rounded characters (not all of them likable), a thought-out plot with a nice set of curves, and a working knowledge of the law and you get what appears to be the recipe for a Very Good Read.

    And it is a Very Good Read. A. Scott Fenney (two guesses what the “A” stands for...and his daughter is called Boo…) is a hot shot young attorney working for a snazzy law firm in a downtown Dallas skyscraper. He over bills his clients, eats and works out in exclusive clubs, lives in Highland Park (think Beverly Hills but with really old money and even more of a superiority complex), and regularly trades on the fact that he was - at one point - a football star for Southern Methodist University. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps and never looked back.

    And then...the son of the next Presidential Hopeful candidate is murdered one night. He’s home from Washington for the weekend (he likes to do his whoring in Highland Park where the family’s deep pockets have some sway) and the circumstances surrounding his death could prove fatal to a presidential campaign. He was with a black hooker...and it turns out he has a history of abuse.

    In a case of what can only be Very Bad Timing (or Very Good Timing depending on how you look at it) Fenney is giving a speech on the virtues of being Atticus Finch to a group of lawyers and local judges - one of whom decides that he has finally found a decent lawyer and assigns Fenney to the Defense of the poor (heroin-addicted) black woman who is charged with the murder of the Senator’s Son.

    Yes, Giminez wades through predictable racial (and neighborhood) stereotypes to try and prove his point - that the color of law isn’t black or white anymore: it’s green. He often falls flat, but the growth of the character alone is worth the read. And did I mention the curves? This plot has curves. Because what do you do when you’re abandoned by the very people who forced you into the situation to begin with? You re-examine. And you regroup...and if you’re A. Scott Fenney, you stick to your guns and make your six-year-old daughter (who is a much more interesting character than your wife, by the way) proud, regardless of the outcome of a very stacked trial.


Before It's Too Late

Read Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin.

Actually. Read EVERYTHING by Ira Levin.

Trust me.

Then see Rosemary's Baby with the incomparable Ruth Gordon. Realize that the book is better but the movie is still awesome.

And then cross your fingers and pray to whatever God you believe in that Michael Bay's remake either dies a quiet death or is so awesome that it makes the book look like crap. OR that he realizes NO ONE can be Ruth Gordon except Ruth Gordon so he decides to adapt Son Of Rosemary, since Ira Levin already went there.


The Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda

I read this one months ago and it still stays with me. One could almost say that it’s haunting. Not that it gave me nightmares, but for those prone to it -- I can see nightmares occurring.  I read it in an afternoon because I couldn’t put it down. It’s purported to be for ages 13 and up, but a movie based on the book would either be very watered down or rated R for the violence.

Billi (aged fifteen) is the only daughter of one of the few remaining members of the Knight’s Templar. If you’re unfamiliar with this groups of Catholic Knights (some say they are sacred protectors of the people, others call them vigilantes) I suggest doing a little independent research. If nothing else, it’s a fascinating group of men who have spent history getting the short end of a very dangerous stick. Billi is being inducted as the book opens; there is no question that the existing members aren’t fond of the idea of a girl joining their ranks. In the grand scheme of things, though, this is a minor obstacle for her.

I picked up a lot of Joss Whedon undertones while reading this - if Whedon were a hard-core Catholic with an extensive knowledge of lore and mythology: a barely pubescent girl with a destiny forced to give up her own life pursuits (boys, normal school life, a decent night’s sleep) in order to fight vampires, werewolves, demons, and fallen angels. She is well-schooled in martial arts (although they admit it’s less formal and more street-fighting,) church history, and a fair amount of what would be considered witchcraft were it not sanctioned by the Church.

The Knight’s are, of course, a very deeply kept secret. Tour guides take groups through London and stop in front of the church where the Templar’s “used” to meet before they were “disbanded” - this fact coupled with impending doom add an urgency to the tale as it spins out: save the world, but no one can know you did it. Billi finds help in unlikely places, while being surrounded with the sacrifices that matter but which are rarely required of anyone in the modern age...and this is a modern book. It might deal with lore that is thousands of years old, but Billi lives in modern London where the souls of man are in as dire a need as they were centuries ago.

A coming of age tale meant for those who can take the idea that the things going bump in the night might actually exist...and that the organizations we do or do not look to for protection are also the same ones who are being manipulated to harm us, I feel it should be a must-read. Regardless of your age or religious affiliation this is a book that will make you rethink what you’ve long assumed...and even if you’re not left wondering what else the Church is hiding, you’ve certainly enjoyed the story.


Worth Reading

I couldn't get into Tropic Of Cancer. It's stream of consciousness and I think my pregnancy-addled brain just can't take it right now. Also, it's calling up all sorts of "Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man" unpleasantness.... I'm far enough in to understand why it was banned/challenged, but that's not why I'm putting it down (temporarily.) I will come back to it later because the narrative is truly interesting. But stream of consciousness at a time when my own train of thought is easily and frequently derailed...no bueno.

I do want to point you here, though - certainly worth reading. Especially if you are, like me, a fan of libraries, controversial topics (gay marriage), and children's books.


I'm also adding that blog as a permalink on the right side of this blog.

Happy October!
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