Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: Angels: A Novel

Angels: A Novel
Angels: A Novel by Denis Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the kind of book Charles Bukowski wished he could write but never had the sentence-level talent to pull off. At least, that's what I thought when I was about half way through. Then this book takes a sudden turn into insanity. Which is both good and bad. In the final third of the book, Johnson conducts a frantic dismantling of his characters -- Jamie loses her mind; Bill loses his freedom. But it's done in such a way that they are parallel sufferers. In fact, I'd argue the book approaches commenting on the way men and women living on the fringe suffer. And while the conclusion is not cynical, it does seem to linger on the experience of Bill and his brothers moreso than Jamie, despite the fact that Jamie's journey is, in my view, the more compelling one.

Worth reading if you like reading about life on the fringe -- expect drugs, miserable sex, and the easy mistakes of violent crime. Also, Denis Johnson writes some damn fine sentences.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets or: why the new title?

Ladies and gentlefops, I'm very excited to announce that my first novel, Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, will be published in March 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Be sure to put my book on your Goodreads "to read" list.

I warn you now that I will be promoting the pigeon-poop out of this book over the next year. I appreciate those of you who are already excited and hope to attract more and more fans as the months progress, so share this blog, share the updates, share your love.

The following updates will occur between now and launch day, to keep you all interested in my wondrousness:
--a cover reveal!
--an official website featuring my giant face!
--an awesome website feature specifically designed to make you laugh AND kill time!
--more things I can't mention yet!

What's the deal with the title, you ask (infected with precious curiosity)? Yes, some of you may remember this book by it's working-title YAWP! The change was NOT something I resisted and I am actually more excited about this title than YAWP!.

This new title meets the following 5 criteria:
  1. It's awesome. More awesome: I can refer to my book as DR BIRD. 
  • I'm doing a signing with Dr. Bird tonight.
  • Photo caption: Me and Dr. Bird, chillaxing with some lemonade.
    1. It's easier to understand when someone says it, whereas I found myself repeating "Yawp" three times when people asked for the title. Even then, I was often met with the classic "I'll never understand what he's saying so I'll just nod" head-nod. 

    2. It'll be easier to remember, which means booksellers will not have one of those sad conversations at the information desk that goes like this:
    CUSTOMER: "Do you have a book called Yelp?"
    BOOKSELLER: "Doesn't look like it."
    C: "It's by Evan Rosco."
    B: "Spell that?"
    C: "R-O-S-C-O. I think. I'm not sure."
    B: "Don't see it."
    C: "It's got a blue cover, I think."*
    B: "Sure, let me just search our cover color database...oh wait, that doesn't exist."
    C: "Can't you read my thoughts?"
    B: "Not yet...."
    *FYI: the cover is NOT blue. 
    1. It's still my title, as it was part of a brainstorming session that my brain cordially invited me to attend. I'm happy that I was able to come up with a good title myself, not because I don't trust my editor or her team, but because I pride myself on titling things. (This is not a joke but something of a character flaw. I love titling almost as much as I love making up songs while I do mundane things:
    Sung to the upbeat 'scaramouche' section of Bohemian Rhapsody: "I am a very very hungry little man. Got to eat, got to eat, should I make myself a sandwich? Peanut butter Jelly, very very tasty me!"
    1. It highlights a feature of the book that brings me the most joy and seems to intrigue people to read: a pigeon. 

    Friday, July 20, 2012

    Review: A Monster Calls

    A Monster Calls
    A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    A phenomenal, gut-wrenching book about a monster that comes to a boy not to scare him, but to tell him three stories. The boy, Conor, needs the stories, but "stories are the wildest things of all" the monster says. They will not be simple.

    It's impossible to say more about A MONSTER CALLS without ruining it except to say that buying the physical book -- a beautiful hardcover with amazing illustrations -- is necessary. It's a heavy book with a sad, strong story.

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    REVIEW: Little Velásquez

    Little VelazquezLittle Velazquez by Kathryn A. Kopple
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Historical fiction always worries me. I love learning about different places, different times, different political systems, etc, but I don't like reading history disguised as fiction. Nor do I think fiction should be shackled by historical accuracy. Don't sacrifice a good scene because it didn't happen that way in real life. And don't excuse bad storytelling because that's how it DID happen.

    Kathryn Kopple's forthcoming novel LITTLE VELÁSQUEZ never left me feeling like I picked up a book from the wrong section of the bookstore. Velasquillo, the heart of the novel (but certainly not the the only character we get to know intimately), emanates a charm and loneliness throughout the novel. These two qualities are not just interesting because of his character -- though he certainly crystalizes very quickly and remains true and real throughout -- they are qualities that tie the various people in the novel together.

    This novel focuses on the court of Fernando and Queen Isabel of Castile (you know, the one that funded Columbus, expelled the Jews and Muslims, and probably yelled at adorable kittens in her free time). Velasquillo manages to trick his way into being the court fool and the novel happily doesn't stick only to his POV. We're inside the heads of Isabel, her Marquesa de Moya, her daughter Juana, and others. This is key, because it shows just how pervasive loneliness is. This novel isn't simply about the loneliness of power. It's human disconnection. It's an exploration of how, at various levels in society (perhaps today's, but at least in the society of the novel), people are disconnected, unable to communicate, easily fooled, and easily fail.

    Constructed to cover the ten year siege of Grenada, one might feel like time moves a bit too brisky from section to section, but Velasquillo and, to my surprise, the Queen herself, keep things connected and clear.

    One of the features I enjoyed most is Kopple's sentences. She's never dry, clearly knows her time period well, but doesn't twist her words around your neck.

    I leave you with this excellent passage from the prologue as evidence of how much fun this book is to read:
    "He didn't need a physician, didn't want one. He wanted only to be young again. How tired he was of hauling his old carcass about; so sick of the sight of wrinkles and spots. He wanted to frolic among the great, wise oaks, to urinate with glee, to feel some heat in his loins. What good did it do him to possess a body unlike any other body, one that amused and amazed, when, inside, he was no different at all--and perhaps worse off than many. He would die like any other man, in a heap of rotting teeth and flesh, with fetid breath, no less. No less.

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    Thursday, July 19, 2012

    REVIEW: Echolocation by Myfanwy Collins

    EcholocationEcholocation by Myfanwy Collins
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    ECHOLOCATION by Myfanwy Collins has me thinking about fission. At first I thought of the collapsing of the universe, but, without giving away too many spoilers, this is more about the collision of distinct, related women and the resulting release of energy. There is destruction and creation in the series of events. Examples of gain from loss begin in the opening pages when Geneva (the main character and the most morally compelling) loses her arm but gains freedom.

    I think the greatest momentum in the novel is created by the consistent PRESENCE of the PAST. This particular aspect of the novel reminds me of Alice Munro, whose characters seem like mental time travelers, moving between now and then. Collins juggles Renee, Cheri, and Geneva and I'm curious what she'd be able to do with just one character put under the microscope of her sentences.

    The closing ~30 pages is quite interesting as it reveals more memories than I expected from the climax of the novel, cementing Geneva as the emotional core of the novel, the potentially tragic figure, and the one who still lingers after I've shut the book.

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    Wednesday, July 4, 2012

    REVIEW: Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl

    Me and Earl and the Dying GirlMe and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Wow. I didn't intend to read this one tonight but I started and realized it was impossible to put down. There's so many ways this book could go wrong, but it manages to stay on the tracks (train metaphor!) without crashing into a mountain (plane metaphor!).

    Basically, this book is HILARIOUS and gruff and a little frustrating (but in a way that makes sense and works when I sat back and considered things as a whole). The narrator is imperfect but witty; his friend Earl is phenomenal and smart; Rachel (the titular dying girl) is -- well, I can't say anything without destroying what Andrews has created here.

    Suffice to say, I bought this book on a whim: GREAT cover + description that mentions filmmaking HS kids who watch Aguirre, The Wrath of God too much + great voice in the opening = winner.

    I am not sorry I succumbed to the whim purchase. and now I will begin to champion this book.

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