The Quick & Dirty: Reviews

I’ve been slackin’.  We can all see that.  I went from two-digits to single digits.

I’ve actually been researching the Holocaust because I’m going to start teaching Night in one week and I’m pumped up, like cheerleader pumped up, top of the pyramid cheerleader, BE AGGRESSIVE, B-E AGGRESSIVE cheerleader pumped up.

In order for me to catch up, it’s another round of the quick & dirty.

1. Tiger Lily – Jodi Lynn Anderson 

Tiger Lily – Jodi Lynn Anderson

Do you realize how many times I went into Barnes & Noble just to feel the green leather cover of the new Annotated Peter Pan?  If a cow was covered in peter pan memorabilia I would pet those Pan spots until the cow and I flew off to Neverland.  I have a deep love of Peter Pan, he’s like the classic version of Harry Potter.  I requested this book as an advanced reader from Harper Collins twice.  I literally had to e-mail beg the second time with a proud picture of my photobooth sad face.  (I know I have issues).  However, this was a dud.  I badly wanted Tiger Lily to not turn into the pouting girlfriend when Wendy came.  They made Peter Pan seem like some high school heart throb who made out with mermaids one minute and eskimo kissed Tiger Lily (how dare she ruin her morals like that) the next.  I did like that the mermaids were these half shark, half scaled, half Disney creatures though because it seems like the Blue Lagoon would breed some strange epiphany of an animal.  BUT, Tiger Lily is just another love sick “native” in another young adult book where the girl gets broken-hearted and sits alone to daydream about when the right man will come along.

TIGER LILY IS SUPPOSED TO BE A BEAST WHO DOESN’T GIVE PETER THE TIME OF DAY.

She uses him, okay. She uses him.

“Sometimes I think that maybe we are just stories. Like we may as well just be words on a page, because we’re only what we’ve done and what we are going to do.

Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones

2. Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones 

This book was another slight adventure into New Zealand literature.  I’m not sure anything could ever approach the greatness that is Bone People, but this was good.  However, if you’re going to write a book that twists off from the rock of a great classic piece of literature at least make the climax worth my time.  I was desperately involved with Mister Pip, the school teacher and his white suit, his love of Dickens.  I can imagine him wrapping his voice around the cocktail shrill of Miss Havisham, her wet broom hair, and dusty white lace.  I wanted to hear him cough like Magwitch, imagine the sounds of the sewer river near Pip’s home.  Magwitch threatened someone’s life, he must have a deep growl somewhere in the pit of his stomach.

It took this author two sentences to ruin the climax. Two full sentences and the entire book was a sham.

I wanted to hurl my body into a wall and leave a hole for the place where this story should have went.  Maybe it’ll grow like a wildflower from the blank space.

“I had found a new friend. The surprising thing is where I’d found him – not up a tree or sulking in the shade, or splashing around in one of the hill streams, but in a book. No one had told us kids to look there for a friend. Or that you could slip inside the skin of another. Or travel to another place with marshes, and where, to our ears, the bad people spoke like pirates. ” 

The Dove Keepers – Alice Hoffman

3. The Dove Keepers – Alice Hoffman 

If you want me to read a 500 and so page book, then you need to make it thrilling.

If you are writing about women made of magic and homemade ink and they aren’t fascinating gypsy spirits…

I can’t even review this.

Vaclav & Lena – Haley Tanner

4. Vaclav & Lena – Haley Tanner 

I enjoyed this book.  It has birds on the cover. It was a healthy dose of love story and corny plot line that I needed  during commercials of NFL football.  I hate when authors I love write blurbs on the back of books I don’t gush madly, deeply, truly (sorry Backstreet Boys  interrupted me there) about.  This book was okay.  It wasn’t a golden ringer and I was okay with that because I just borrowed it from the library.  I had to borrow it anonymously because I owe the librarian ten cents for a misunderstanding (Yea, sorry, I’m that person) but I gave it back in a quick turnaround.

The characters in this story are interesting.  It’s a bit too “written in the stars” for me.  I don’t like stories where the lovers are laid out in the beginning and the reader has to accept that whatever horrible things happen to them in the middle, they will come back together in the end, holding hands, or singing a lullaby, or just off somewhere looking at the sky, sitting close to one another.  (I take that back because I pretty much just described Twilight).

Vaclav is a magician and Lena is his lovely sidekick.  They are both Russian immigrants who YOU GUESSED IT lose each other on the cusp of adulthood and find each other again when they’re both much taller, lacking braces, and smell funny.

“. . . and Vaclav’s special new shoes with the lights on the heels and the Velcro everywhere, because in America no one, not even small children, has time to tie his own shoes, and everything must have flashing lights.” 

Black Boy – Richard Wright

5. Black Boy – Richard Wright 

I think this is one of the most brilliant memoirs to happen in the 20th century.  While everyone argues in their head for Year of Magical Thinking (which I thought was a bit of a bleh) please hear me out.

Richard Wright is so ahead of his time, it’s ridiculous.  Instead of being a writer who hits the Jackpot exactly at the right moment in time (50 Shades of Grey COUGH COUGH – came out just when everyone was trying to make women have these probing ultrasounds if they wanted to have an abortion and half of the population wanted to riot over the rights of women.  Everyone in porn is having a serious round of high-fives) (that was a long parenthesis), Richard Wright comes about when it’s the complete wrong part of time.  He grows up black when anything else is more acceptable.  He tells the true story of black boys, and to be honest, I read this book because I teach a lot of black boys and I wanted to understand them better.  What better way than by reading a book?  (Gateway drug).

I was awed by Richard Wright’s struggle, but not only that, the way he spoke about books made my chest open up and all the red flush drained out.  It’s like a black boy in “No Colored Allowed” South, knew me.  This is when books are meeting their true calling, when they find the pocket of opportunity to introduce a 24-year-old white girl to a sixteen-year-old black boy who is fighting every impossibility of life while she types a blog on her macbook.  This book found me in a place I didn’t yet know I had.  We read because we need to show the world color.

Thank you, Richard Wright, for just living and writing it down.

“I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all.” 

American Pastoral – Philip Roth

6. American Pastoral – Philip Roth 

I think this is a five.

Much like my favorite book ever, Lark & Termite, this is one of those books that you must finish and well-out before you are able to fully grasp the magnitude. (I mean sit in a well and ponder the possibilities of life).  I think I’m so in awe of this book because I could never, ever, ever write it.  The way Roth describes how you make a glove should be printed into short stories and given to amateur writers everywhere.  I’ve never been so interested in industrialization and the way a factory processes goods than I was in those gloved moments.  Philip Roth wrote down to every single stitch that a glove maker does by hand.  I learned parts of a glove that I never cared to learn.  It made me want to go out and dress like a lady.

I’m just not sure how to recommend this book.  I think if you can deeply feel a book for it’s style and content, then read this book.  If you get bored easily and can’t push yourself to finish books that dawdle, then don’t read this book.  Well….just….actually…please read this book.  I think it may be one of the greatest books in American literature.  And here I am, not even having gotten to the characters and how I felt about them, and I want to pull my pinky finger from the soft leather pinch with my teeth.

This book is just a marathon of awesome writing.  I hate using the word awesome in this blog because I think it’s an excuse of a word.  It’s like cussing, there’s no point when the English language – or any language for that matter – has so many great words for how you’re feeling when you cuss.  Awesome is the good word version of a cuss word in a paragraph.  It has a cool sound, but it isn’t actually a word.

A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer – Christine Schutt (Even the title is too long and pointless).

7. A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer – Christine Schutt 

I think she likes to hear the sound of her own voice.  I think I worked way too hard to read this book.  It was incredibly hard to be moved by these characters or to connect series of events.  If she wrote a novel, it would come out with a big “discard” stamp in the front flap. (That may be a little too harsh.  There were good word moments).

8. Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbury 

I found this book pretentious.  I was expecting Matilda and I got philosopher concierge and pretentious little girl.  The best part of this book was the Japanese man who takes philosopher to dinner and discussions.  (I’m so sorry my dear Aussie friend.  I know you love it.  You can defend it to the death in a dual in the comments if you want).

Buddha in the Attic – Julie Otsuka

9. Buddha in the Attic – Julie Otsuka 

Don’t read this book.  It has a “we” as the narrator and it’s horrendous.  Who chose to write this as a chorus.  This is not a Greek tragedy.  We needed one character for the reader to connect to, to make this novel work.  Instead we get the gallows of women who  sound like a long train of dead voices.  If you can write a novel in the second person that’s beautiful, I will bow down, but the “we,” really?  Did WE really expect that one to work?

I’m a harsh critic tonight.

This must be why that book snob said that book bloggers are ruining the book culture. (Sorry, I’m not sorry).

“We lost weight and grew thin. We stopped bleeding. We stopped dreaming. We stopped wanting.” 

23 thoughts on “The Quick & Dirty: Reviews

  1. alenaslife says:

    Cassie — you seriously rock my world. So glad I’m home to read some blogs this morning. 1) It’s been years since I read NIGHT, but it changed my life. I want to tell you to “enjoy” teaching it, but that word seems wrong given the subject. 2) I’m sorry you hated Dovekeepers — we’ll have to just disagree on that. I loved all the metaphors and imagery. Could have been my mood. 3) 100% agree on Buddhas…I hated the first person plural and felt completely detached. (Listening to the audio version only made it worse). Have you read WEIRD SISTERS? Eleanor Brown uses the strategy much more effectively by mixing “we” in with very personal stories and perspectives.

    • Cassie says:

      You’re so sweet! Night is WONDERFUL. I am so excited to teach it. I think my students are going to be horrified though. I’m planning a pretty terrifying unit so that they make sure to never let something like this happen again. I’m also comparing the way Hitler used language to the way they use language to bully, or they’ve heard people in school use language to bully. I think it’s going to go well – I’m not sure though! : )

      The Dovekeepers just dragged for me. I really really really wanted to like it. I had carried it around the bookstore probably five times before I finally bought it at Target. I just couldn’t get into it and finally I just skipped pages and read the ending for everyone and then went back and dragged on. BLEH! The language did have pretty moments.

      I’ve read Weird Sisters and I hated that too. I think I’m just really against that strategy for books. It’s really hard to connect to the characters. Actually, I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t overjoyed. I think I had an ehh…feeling about it. : )

      • alenaslife says:

        Well I guess I’ll avoid recommending “we” books to you in general. I didn’t love Weird Sisters, but it had its moments.
        Keep up the great work with NIGHT. I think so many people think “it could never happen” again, but of course it does in big and small ways all the time. People are pigeon-holed and victmized right under our noses. I’m grateful there are teachers like you out in the world.

    • Cassie says:

      Exactly. When you were reading it did you think OH MY GOSH THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVER? It really took me a while to process how amazing American Pastoral really was?

      Did you hate the abrupt climax moment too?! I can’t believe how he wrote that – I was really upset about the lack of explanation. It just happened and it was over! And with the gruesomeness of it! UGH!

  2. Brianna Soloski says:

    Night is phenomenal and I’m thrilled to hear it’s being taught. The Dovekeepers made me want to shoot myself in the face. It was like reading my AP history textbook from high school, except I got a B in that class. I got a big fat F with The Dovekeepers.

    • Cassie says:

      Read what I said to Alena about Night. I’m really nervous, but really excited about it!

      The Dovekeepers was just SO LONG. It wasn’t even a marathon – it was like a cross country bike ride or something, I just wanted to pull over and read something else. It took me WEEKS to get through that book.

      • Brianna Soloski says:

        I didn’t even finish it. We read it for book club at my old job so I didn’t pay for it, but even on Kindle, I couldn’t get through it and I fly through books on there.

    • Cassie says:

      Ah! I feel odd turning someone away from a book. You should definitely read another one of her books though. I do adore Alice Hoffman and most of those make up for this one.

  3. angela says:

    Night is such a beautiful book despite the horrific events it encapsulates.

    AP – it is on a list…not a Roth fan but many books allude to, ergo, I’m intrigued.

    Buddha– cant say if I agree or disagree for I never finished because there are just too many books on my plate. I will give the author credit for writing in a very poetic way…it flows, there is beauty in her brevity, despite the we ~

    • Cassie says:

      Night is really gorgeous and poetically written. I really need to read his other books.

      I loved the section of Buddha on the boat. I think it was really working then and as it progressed I think it worked less and less. It’s just really hard to connect when pretty language is one of the only things holding a book together.

      Thank you for your opinion!.

  4. Bea says:

    I am a quick and dirty fan! It’s book reviews with an edge. Look out, here they come! Anyway, the reviews were short, sweet, and sometimes funny. I did enjoy the few quotes from the books that you included in your blog. Even the books you didn’t love, had a few good lines in them.
    Last, I enjoyed the other comments, also short, sweet, and funny. It seems I need to read Night, so many great comments about that book have grabbed my attention.

  5. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    What a great summary of reviews, I’ve missed your lively visceral book discussions, I think your students are benefiting though and would love to be a fly on a wall in that Night class :)

    You’ve made me consider diving into the Mr Roth book, always thought of him as bit of blokes read, but if you loved it, then it’s got to be universal!

    Mr Pip was a great journey, I think I must have blocked out the ending and only retained the good feeling of being in that classroom. :)

    Weird Sisters is our next bookclub book, I’m thinking I may not be available, it sounded to me a little like the Anna Quidlen book One True Thing, only three daughters.

    Love your description of the Richard Wright book, sounds like a real gem and reminds me a little of Black Count, the historical non-fiction book I just read, if he had written a memoir it would have been an enlightening read indeed, thankfully he fathered the great storyteller Alexandre Dumas, who retold his story in many different variations.

    • Cassie says:

      I will have to read the Black Count – that sounds awesome and definitely your review. I have read Alexandre Dumas and he is wonderful so I’m sure his father is as well.

      Roth’s blurbs on the back make him seem like a Manly man, but there were things in that book that a woman could really connect to. I plan on reading his other books and American Pastoral was just powerful regardless of gender expectations and all that. I had the same exact feeling going into it though!

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