Monday, May 31, 2010


Gabrielle Zevin

Scale of 1 - 10:
Pros: Well-written, with a good, thoughtful story

Cons: No explanation for why people in Elsewhere live their lives in reverse, which seems like a gimmick

My take:
Zevin has a good grasp of teen angst, and I like her take on what life - that we are here to live and learn, and that hanging on to the past does no one any good.  I like that.  What I don't like is the lack of explanation for why people "live backwards" once they arrive in Elsewhere.  It just makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.  If the point of it is to learn in some manner which you couldn't if you aged normally, then it would be good to know that.  

It may be that my main problem with that aspect of how Elsewhere is portrayed lies in the fact I do not believe in reincarnation, but I think it will be extremely off-putting to anyone who has very strong opinions about the afterlife.  It seems to me the reader will need to maintain an open mind on that subject, and some readers' religious beliefs may preclude that, which is a shame, as it really is a lovely story which caused me to become teary-eyed on more than one occasion.

There are gentle lessons to be learned in the pages of Elsewhere, if readers can set aside their religious beliefs and just go with Liz's story, which is about both growing up and coming to terms.  I recommend it for all ages.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Wishful Drinking

Carrie Fisher

Scale of 1 - 10:
Pros: Wry look at growing up with celebrity. Fisher's writing is engaging and very much like she's invited you to lunch.

Cons: Maybe a tad too glib. Fisher's sense of humor sometimes misses the mark for me, and her language is occasionally shockingly coarse. Then again, that's her style, and I'm not going to judge her for it. Some people might find it off-putting, however. This is not a book written for the prim crowd.

My take:
People who grew up with the Star Wars saga will probably find it interesting, though while Star Wars figures prominently in it, it's not a book about Star Wars. It is a book about manic-depression/bipolar disorder and addiction, as well as growing up in an unconventional home, with celebrity parents. I found myself wondering how much of Fisher's novel, Postcards From the Edge, was taken from real life and drawing parallels between that book and Wishful Drinking. Drinking is a very fast, glib, and fairly enlightening read. While Fisher does not seem to feel sorry for herself in the slightest, it made me sad that someone as beautiful as she is has such a poor image of herself and has clearly learned to put herself down to prevent hearing someone else do it first. I could see a lot of the teenage me in teenage Carrie...minus the drinking, drugs, and celebrity, of course. The only thing I think Fisher could have gone into more detail about was electroshock therapy, which she has undergone, and which she says was the catalyst for her one-woman show, upon which the book is based. She talks about it several times, but only peripherally. I would like to know what prompted her to engage in that form of therapy and how it's working for her, as well as what it's like. Regardless, I find Wishful Drinking a brave book and wish Fisher well.

Snarklet: Fly on the Wall

E. Lockhart

Oral sex references. On page 5. I'm still trying to get past that.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Update & Holiday Greetings

Sorry for all the not posting full snarks/squees. It's been a really difficult year. My dad passed away in February, and frankly, stuff just mounted up. I'm hoping to get back in the swing of things after the holidays, but I'll TRY to post something before then. I certainly have the fodder for it - some books that truly sucked were Meri Strikes Back, Hardly Working, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and Pessl's opus of pretentious dreck...assuming I can still find my copies of them for reference, since I have happily been able to erase the horror from my memory. Or rather, the specifics of it. Believe me, I still remember the general horror. 2009 has been the year of reading dangerously, let me tell you.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season. Here's to all good things in 2010.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Suite Francaise

Irène Némirovsky

I'm not going to scale this book, because you can't honestly scale a rough draft, which is what Suite Francaise is. It was handwritten during WWII, in a notebook, by a woman who did not live to see the completion of her planned work. Composed of two short books, entitled "A Storm in June" and "Dolce," Suite Francaise is remarkable, both because even in rough draft form it's in very little need of polishing, and because it was written so well under dire and terrible conditions. Married and a mother of two small girls, Némirovsky was both Russian and of Jewish descent, living in France under Nazi occupation and at a time when Germany had been attacked by and was engaged in war with Russia. In addition to the obvious stress that living with the fear of interment would cause, the German government froze her bank accounts and ordered her publishers to continue to deposit all payments owed to her into those accounts (as they did with all Jewish artists), greatly hindering Némirovsky from accessing her income. In addition, publication of works created by foreigners and Jews was forbidden, effectively severing her revenue stream. She was deported to Auschwitz in July, 1942, where she died one month later. Her children kept her notebook as a memento of their mother, believing it to be a diary. It was not until they had long grown into adults that eldest daughter Denise could bring herself to read the notebook and realized that what she held was her mother's final work.

I fully expected the book to be very sad and tragic, and for it to upset me. But Némirovsky's pragmatism comes across in the storytelling. People die, but they do so dispassionately. Their deaths may be violent, but they are also matter-of-fact: this is war - people die. I regret she was unable to finish the entire work, as both Storm and Dolce are vivid works full of memorable characters one can not help but think must be drawn from those Némirovsky knew in real life. They are detestable and not, honorable and not, and all their motives are made clear - Némirovsky does not leave the reader to guess at intentions, nor does she make excuses for their being or behaviour. Things are what they are. Némirovsky is a keenly visual storyteller, and I think Suite Francaise is probably a very good description of life in occupied France during the first few years of the war. It's a great loss that Némirovsky did not live through the war to document its end as she did the beginning.  

Suite Francaise is translated from the French by Sandra Smith, who seems to have done an excellent job. My only quibble with her work is that she left uncorrected a few things which Némirovsky would obviously have chosen to correct. She says she did so out of the desire to demonstrate the circumstances of its writing, but I feel it was a disservice to Némirovsky and her work to leave them as they were. I strongly recommend you read both appendices and the Preface to the French Edition of Suite Francaise, located at the back of the book. I started with the first appendix, which contains various of her notes on the writing and what she hoped to achieve, as well as her final journal entry, 2 days before she was taken. I then read the book and finished with the second appendix and the preface, both of which deal with the end days of Némirovsky's life and its effect on those who knew her, itself worthy of a book. I feel sad Némirovsky was unable to finish her opus and that her life was ended as it was. She was a gifted storyteller. And as a human being, she deserved better.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Blog Disclaimer

The FTC, in all its infinite wisdom and glory, has decided that every blog, large or small, needs to tell you whether or not it gets payola for stated opinions like book reviews.  So here it is:

Some of the books reviewed here might be books we received for free as Advance Reader Copies (ARC's).  Publishers sometimes send those out to bookstores so that booksellers will read them, like them, and recommend them to customers.  A Guide To the Birds of East Africa was just such a book. Katie got it when she still worked at B&N and felt it was the best book she read all last year.  She would have felt that way even if she'd paid for it.  Sadly, most of the ARC's she read sucked it hard.  But that one was awesome.  The rest of the books reviewed here will have been purchased with hard-earned cash.  Cash we earned at actual jobs, not here for writing about books.  

No matter how a book was acquired, the opinions expressed in this blog are the honest opinions of the reviewer.  We are all strong women who hate bad writing and crappy books, in no small part because we write ourselves.  Since this is a tiny little review site, it's pretty hilarious to think anyone would bother paying us to write anything, especially since it's not like we're called Literary Squee.  We're called Literary Snark for a reason, which is mostly to save you from having to read bad books, but also to call out the publishing industry on some of the junk it prints.  By our very nature, we don't tend to say nice things about the books discussed here, but you can bet that if we ever do, we were not paid to say it. 

If the day ever comes when publishers actually start sending us books to read, we'll let you know, but frankly, the coming of said day would probably cause us to keel over in shock.  We'd be happy to have free books though, so if any of you are publishers, please, feel free to send those ARC's this way.  (Katie especially loves teen fiction, fantasy & science fiction and chicklit.) We promise to be absolutely fair in our reading, and if we like it, we'll say so.

So there, FTC. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

(Disclaimer to the Disclaimer: No one here advocates smoking.  Smoking is bad.  It was just an expression.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Currently Reading: Hardly Working

Betsy Burke

Like a bad Harlequin romance, only twice as long and with so much dreary exposition about fundraising and the environment that it's less than half as interesting. Help.