Anything But Okay by Sarah Darer Littman [Book]

“Stella and Farida have been best friends forever, but lately things have been tense. It all started when Stella’s brother came home from his latest tour with the US Marines in Afghanistan paranoid and angry. But Stella won’t talk about it, and Farida can tell she’s keeping something from her.Desperate to help Rob, Stella thinks she just needs to get him out of the house. She definitely didn’t expect going to the movies to end with Rob in handcuffs for assaulting one of her classmates after his anger spiraled out of control.When a video of the fight goes viral, everyone has an opinion of Stella and her “violent vet” brother.The entire school takes sides, the media labels Rob a terrorist sympathizer, and even Farida is dragged into the mess despite not being there. As the story continues trending, Stella will have to decide just how far she’s willing to go for the truth, even if it means admitting her own failures.” – sarahdarerlittman.com

I feel the need to preface this piece by stating one simple fact that I hope you all acknowledge and know that I am dead serious about…..this is an absolutely amazing book, and even more, I feel as though it should be required reading for every single student, teacher, parent, hell, PERSON, who is ever going to try even in the slightest to understand the youth of today, especially when it comes to anyone attempting to understand the trials and down-right hardships of anyone who is coming back from “Over There”, as well as the families who are forced to deal with the reprecusions of a war that no one can understand.

I also have to state a fact that has been in my brain since reading Anything But Okay, and that is this: I don’t believe I have ever read a “Young Adult” novel before. I was a young adult once, but even then I don’t believe I ever managed to partake in YA reading. When I was in 6th grade, my mother had to be called to my elementary school because my teacher was concerned about me reading Howard Stern’s Private Parts at such a young age. True story. I did read Goosebumps as a younger child, but I never even manage to move into Fear Street as a pre-teen or teenager. I jumped right into the Fletch series, and Hemingway very early on. That same 6th grade year, I also had to have my mom come to my school to defend my school project on Tim Allen where I casually mentioned that the huge Home Improvement star once sold cocaine for a living, and then show a clip to the class from Toy Story. Basically I was a pretty messed up kid, and grew up way too fast. But, that’s not important here. The point is, I have never been well-informed on the YA world. Until now.

And I am honestly convinced that I am not in the wrong for my aversion to the YA world when I was an actual young adult. I firmly believe that they were not writing books like Sarah Darer Littman is writing now. To be honest, maybe the lack of the internet, and the fact that I was a latch-key kid from the 90’s might have something to do with it, but I honestly don’t remember being taught or reading anything that was as compelling and tragic and inspiring as I have read in Littman’s Anything But Okay. I came into adolescences during a time when things seemed pretty much okay. If everything was trembling around us, we didn’t really seem to notice. That is definitely not the case for the characters that Littman is currently writing about, and is definitely not the case for her readers in this day and age.

Anything But Okay is an absolutely brilliant depiction of what it means to be an American teenager in this day and age. While the storyline seems so specific at first, you would soon realize that is really isn’t. This is a far too common storyline, and that definitely makes me sad. The plot points of this amazing novel are not only accurate, but entirely plausible in the saddest ways possible. Littman obviously did some incredible research when she decided to tackle the idea of PTSD in the modern world. And what makes it so much more special is that it comes from the perspective someone close by, and actually focused on their own personal struggles in dealing with the situation.

And while the idea of PTSD is definitely a major plot point in the book, it’s not the only lesson to be learned within this text. Throughout my reading of this amazing novel, I became enthralled with the character that is Farida. I truly believe that if you read this book, your perception of the character Farida will truly say a lot about your own personality. Read the book, you will get it. Farida simply tells it like it is. And Sarah Darer Littman perfectly drives the point home when she mentions the idea that Farida is expected to represent her entire culture each and every day just be living as a kid of Iraqi descent. This is a concept that I truly believe that people really don’t think about enough. But this is just a testament to the amazing talent of Littman.

Folks, young and old, you NEED to check out this book. It’s one of the best novels the decade. And if it doesn’t change your life in a positive way, you should probably reevaluate your entire existence.

Anything But Okay will be available on October 9th, 2018 from Scholastic Press. Discover more info at sarahdarerlittman.com

 

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Kerouac In Florida: Where the Road Ends by Bob Kealing [Book]

Kerouac In Florida by Bob KealingNow we can see Jack Kerouac in a context that evokes memories of Florida’s past: sleeping in a moonlit yard with sweet aroma of orange trees all around, straining to hear the velvet whisper of the wind and his brother Gerard in the piney Orlando night, embarking on a sunrise hitchhiking journey along Orange Blossom Trail, returning with his rucksack full of manuscripts and dreams…No one can say Kerouac only came to Florida to die.

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It wasn’t until 2006 that I discovered who the hell this Jack Kerouac character was.  I was 21 years old, naive to a culture that would soon become one of the most fascinating movements in history.  At the behest of a dear friend, I remember picking up a copy of The Dharma Bums and On The Road at a little book store in Rapid City, South Dakota.  I was prepping myself for my first trip to Iraq, and vowed that I would begin reading in the same manner I had years before when I was a lonely high school kid, digesting Tom Wolfe, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald.  And suddenly there were these “beat” characters who I recognized by name, but knew nothing about.  That would soon change.  Before setting off on my own journey, I completed The Dharma Bums.  I was instantly hooked.  Later in an old World War II era barracks in Nowhere, Wisconsin I banged through On The Road.  From then on there really was no stopping me.  Once in the desert, my free time was spent in the mountains of Washington in Desolation Angels, in 1920’s Massachusetts with Visions of Gerard, and so on and so on.  Kerouac’s work grew on me like nothing I had ever experienced before.  Soon, there was Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso, etc.  But, in my one mind, it was always about Jack.  And this was only the beginning.

Jack Kerouac proved to be the model figure for a theory that I have continuously believed to be absolutely true: Some writers were brilliant, but it is their life story that is more fascinating than their work.  This theory works oh so well for so many artists.  Of course, Kerouac’s stories are more or less entirely autobiographical, but it’s not quite the same as it is when reading about him through the hands of those who were around him.  The folks who experienced his eccentricity first hand, and were only more than willing to spill all the juicy details they can about the legendary Mr. Dulouz.  The same can be said for the folks who became so obsessed with this man and his work without even meeting him, that they can literally call themselves scholars of not only Kerouac, but the beat movement that swept the country.  Basically, in the years since first discovering Jack, I have found that it is far more entertaining to read about his benzedrine fueled life than it is to read his benzedrine fueled works.

Kerouac In Florida by Bob Kealing1Bob Kealing may not exactly be one of the aforementioned “Beat Scholars”, but he is indeed a damn fine journalist, and he happen to have the ability to zone in on one aspect of Kerouac’s life that people tend to ignore.  That aspect is more of a place really, and that place is the state of Florida.  Ignorant and ill-advised Kerouac enthusiasts such as myself are under the impression that Florida was simply where Kerouac went to die at the ripe old age of 47.  The only tales I had heard from Florida were meek and saddening.  But one thorough reading of Kealing’s excellent expose Kerouac In Florida: Where the Road Ends will all but squash these thoughts.  Sure it would eventually be the place where his soul descended from his body forever, before having his physical self shipped back to Lowell, Massachusetts, but Florida meant so much more to him.

Kealing writes with such passion for the land in which he also calls home, but not in an overly biased sense.  Through tales of former neighbors, and an obviously great amount of research, Bob manages to document and describe wonderfully every trip, home, and activity Kerouac managed live in or become involved with during his stay all over Northern Cuba.  Right down to his relationship with legendary actor Paul Gleason when he was simply a minor league baseball player who didn’t stand a chance in that line of work.  Apparently Kerouac took him to see Splendor in the Grass one fine day, which lead to Gleason to look up at the actor’s on the screen and say, “Ah, hell I can do that.”  And years later he would be raiding Barry Manilow’s wardrobe and insulting an intolerable Judd Nelson.  This is simply one fascinating tale with the pages of Kerouac In Florida.  There is oh so much more to be discovered, and I certainly hope that you do.

It would be a bit much to throw Kerouac In Florida out there as a “must read” for all Kerouac enthusiasts.  I don’t claim to be a scholar in any way shape or form, but there are books out there that I would consider required reading for anyone looking to indulge themselves into the live of the King of the Beats, which you will soon he down right fucking loathed being called.  Ann Charter’s seminal biography, Kerouac, is a must read.  His former flame Joyce (Glassman) Johnson wrote a very nice book as well as published a plethora of letters of her time with Jack.  And his forgotten daughter, Jan Kerouac, turned out to be almost as talented as her father with her books Trainsong and Baby Driver.  Her story was also brilliantly told, along with others, in Jim Jones’s wonderful book Use My name: Jack Kerouac’s Forgotten Families.  These are just a few of the “must read books” I would recommend to everyone.  That being said, I do recommend Kerouac In Florida to everyone….but, only after you have developed a baseline to truly understand the characters brought up in this wonderful expose.

KerouacKerouac In Florida: Where the Road Ends is without a doubt a book I am very happy to have read.  It is no secret that ole Jack might not have been considered a man worthy of adoration beyond his writing.  But this is subjective in nature to say the least.  The truly great writers out there marched to their own drum, and to put it in modern terms that the younger audiences might understand:  They just didn’t give a fuck.  This is not entirely true, but is at the same time.  Kerouac tended to care too much.  He cared what was happening to his soul, not his liver.  He worried over the welfare of his cats, but maybe not the hidden children he managed to bear.  His relationship with his mother would have baffled Freudian thinkers everywhere.  He was a complex individual who happened to have a great talent in writing, but had a terrible time living.  But, isn’t this comparable to the womanizing of Hemingway, the self-righteousness of Fitzgerald, the tyrannical self-destructive and misogynistic ways of Bukowski, a myriad of classic novels that Stephen King can’t even remember writing, or the fact that old Fyodor only wrote books to support a gambling addiction?  True art rarely comes from a sane mind.  Perhaps this is why the likes of Kerouac will always be honored and respected in so many ways, and Mr. John Grisham will soon be worm food and leave only an expansive trust fund for the little Grishams, but no real worth in the history of American literature.

In conclusion, Kerouac In Florida is a very nice work that details many little known facts about a legendary writer that is both entertaining and enthralling….but, only if you know a thing or two about the man first.  And I guarantee that once you get sucked into the Kerouac world, this is a book that will leave you grinning like an idiot on a bus in the middle of nowhere.  That’s what it did for me, and I hope the same for you..

Grace After Midnight by Felicia “Snoop” Pearson & David Ritz [Book]

Grace After MidnightWhile Felicia is a brilliant actor in a truly chilling role, what’s most remarkable about “Snoop” is what she has overcome in her life. Snoop was born a three-pound cross-eyed crack baby in East Baltimore. Those streets are among the toughest in the world, but Snoop was tougher. The runt of the ghetto showed an early aptitude for drug slinging and violence and thrived as a baby gangsta until she landed in Jessup state penitentiary after killing a woman in self-defense. There she rebelled violently against the system, and it was only through the cosmic intervention of her mentor, Uncle Loney, that she turned her life around. A couple of years ago, Snoop was discovered in a nightclub by one of The Wire’s cast members and quickly recruited to be one of television’s most frightening and intriguing villains.

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Unlike the rest of the world, I didn’t manage to come across a certain HBO show that simply changed the world, right under my ignorant nose.  The Wire went off the air over 6 years ago, but I figured it was never to late to see what all the fuss was about.  And as I mentioned in our previous interview with one of the show’s stars, Michael Kostroff, I was absolutely smitten with this delightful piece of television drama that was gritty as hell, and downright fucking nerve-racking to watch at times.  And no character truly exemplified the gritty realness and instability of the streets of Baltimore like the cold-blooded killer Snoop, who was 1/2 responsible for the couple of dozen bodies that laid slain in the abandon buildings of Baltimore using nothing more than cold ass heart and an expensive nail gun.

But, what if you were to learn that there was indeed some truth behind this fascinating character?  What if there the space between reality and fantasy wasn’t nearly as wide as you originally imagined?  It’s easy to understand that any kind of fictional television or film drama is normally based on some sort of truth.  But, what if the truth was fiction than you could ever imagine possible?  Well, if you can’t, you would do yourself a world of good to check out Felicia “Snoop” Pearson’s memoir, Grace After Midnight.

Now Real Snoop is not a cold-blooded killer who leaves bodies to rot simply because that’s “just the way it is.”  In fact, nowadays, she is about as far from something of that nature as possible.  But, Real Snoop and Fake Snoop were once very similar.  It should be evident enough that David Simon and folks behind The Wire wanted this woman with no previous acting credits, a girl straight from the streets in which they were suppose to be portraying, to not only star as a very important figure in the show, but to even keep not only her own name, but her own identity.  Felicia “Snoop” Pearson is about as close to the overall story of Baltimore that The Wire tended to portray to the world.  In fact, I would find it safe to say that Snoop IS the story of Baltimore.  Albeit a sad and disturbing one at times, but the real story.

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Snoop with Michael K. Williams at SXSW 2013

In very natural and stylistic prose, Snoop (with co-author credit going to David Ritz) runs through the series of events as well as some prime examples of what it meant to live and ride in East Baltimore to kick off the book. Her matter-of-factly type prose is somewhat frightening even.  You can watch enough hood movies and episodes of The Wire, but when you hear these stories first hand, and in such a nonchalant fashion, it just might scare the shit out of you.  What is most disturbing is indeed how Snoop can describe events like being 10 years old and shooting a boy in the leg for being a bully with such ease and simplicity that it has that “agh, that was nothing” feel to it.  Or watching another man’s brains getting blown straight out the top of their head, and simply keeping a cold dark stair to the shooter mere feet from you.  If you have never experience such darkness, there is simply no way you could ever understand.  I don’t pretend to, but I am indeed fascinated.

But, with such darkness, there is always a light.  Snoops story of ending up in prison as a teenager is probably world renowned by now.  During an act of self defense, Snoop found herself spending 6 years of her life behind bars.  And it was during her time of incarceration that Snoop truly had to “see the light”, so to speak.  We aren’t talking simply about some sort of God like presence, although if that is what you choose to believe, that might just be it.  All that can be said is that this courageous young woman felt, what she called, “grace after midnight”.  After the death of the man she called Uncle, the man who always had her best intentions at heart and cared for her as family, was gunned down in a drug deal gone bad, Snoop flipped her wig, lost her consciousness and almost lost her own life.  But, something happen.  Some sort of mysterious force came to her in the middle of the night, and she felt a grave change come over her.  A change for the better.

Snoop left incarceration at the age of 20 with a whole new outlook on life.  She was going to work hard and become the best person she knew she could definitely be.  She could be the person that would make Uncle and Mama proud.  And she tried, real fucking hard.  But in a serious turn of events that represents just one example of a serious problem in our country:  we are a nation that tends to say give a big middle finger to the rehabilitated who want nothing more than to change their lives around.  Fat cat asshole employers refuse to higher convicted criminals who have “paid their debt to society” (for whatever the hell that is really worth to these savages) and bust their ass on a car assembly or in a factory moving boxes.  It is the fear of the criminally charged that leads the hopeless ex-con back to the ways that got them thrown in jail in the first place.  And then we complain that our jails are overcrowded.  It is a devilish cycle simple doesn’t seem to have an end in sight, until some assholes open their eyes and decide to be the change that needs to happen.  Stop with this bullshit “trickle down economics” tactics and try some “throw down a bit of respect” to those you employ.  But, I digress……

Snoop soon found her way back on the corner and fighting against the law once again.  But, by a stroke of “luck” or “grace” or whatever it is, she found herself in just the right place at the right time to meet The Wire star Michael K. Williams, who obviously saw something that the show needed, and brought her into the life.  And, as they say, the rest is history.  But, it’s not the ending of the story that matters when you finally finish this powerful memoir.  This is a story of perseverance, struggle, striving, failing, loving, and trying.  Ms. Pearson is a woman who had obstacles thrown at her from the day she was born.  Sometimes these obstacles were brought on by her own accord or by simply ignoring the wonderful people around her who only wanted the best for her.  Other times it was a simple cause and effect structure of living the street life.  And while her Felicia Snoop Pearsonstory has some true specificity to it, her story is by large far from uncommon.  But in the end, Snoop has won the fight against herself, the fight against her environment, and the fight against the demons that haunt us all.  She left her old ways behind after kicking at so much darkness, that it simply had to bleed light.

To sum this book up in a just a few words, Nothing could exemplify Felicia “Snoop” Pearson better than her one last words in this haunting yet beautiful memoir:

“Where does the light come from?  And what do you call it?.  You can call it God.  You call it Jesus.  These names are good names.  But I call it the miracle of love.  I call it Grace After Midnight.”

Killer Instinct by Jane Hamsher [Book]

Killer Instinct by Jane HamsherFresh out of film school, aspiring producer Jane Hamsher and her partner Don Murphy stumbled onto a screenplay by a geeky filmmaker-wannabe named Quentin Tarantino. For $10,000, Jane and Don optioned Natural Born Killers and set off on a two-year roller coaster ride no classroom could have prepared them for. With an outrageous cast of real-life characters including Oliver Stone, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey, Jr., and Juliette Lewis–along with a slew of film-crew leeches and behind-the-scenes studio pitbulls–Killer Instinct rivals the most mesmerizing, gut-wrenching movie scenes. A wild joyride like no other, Hamsher’s tale provides a fresh, insider’s perspective on stardom and the real balance of power in Hollywood.

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I had been wanting to check out this book for such a very long time, but somehow it just kept slipping on down my reading list over the last 15 years or so.  I was just a young 12-year-old, movie obsessive kid when it was released, but I remember it quite clearly.  What I mainly remembered was learning about an incident involving my then favorite filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, and some producer I had never heard of named Don Murphy (seriously, what 12-13 kid really gives a shit about the “producer”?) in which QT apparently clocked Mr. Murphy in the jaw because of things that were said in this little book, Killer Instinct.  Well, I will be damned if I wasn’t at least a bit intrigued.  What could have led one of my heroes to fly off the handle like that?  But, as I previously stated, the hype of it all died down (for me, anyway) and I just went back to loving the work of a man who I just knew was going to continue to thrive and make wonderful films.  Jackie Brown came out that year, and I was in love, and completely forgot about these Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy people.

As any young kid with wild aspirations to be a “screenwriter”, whatever that really meant to me, I loved Quentin Tarantino.  And it was easy to side with him on any matter that might put him in a negative light.  For this reason, I believe I decided not to read this book because I was fearful that I might see my hero in a light I just didn’t want to see.  Who wants to hear terrible things about somebody you admire so much?  So, I just let it go and continued to enjoy the world of QT.  Although there was a 7 year dry spell in there where I was desperately wanting a feature film to come around, but I knew he would be back.  And boy did he ever.

Before I get to far into the defensive or offensive of QT, I’d like to throw some thoughts out there about the author, Jane Hamsher, herself.  Jane, teamed up with Don Murphy, were a duo of producers who dove right into the 90’s world of cinema and created quite a splash when they took a script originally penned by Quentin Tarantino entitled Natural Born Killers, and managed to engulf themselves into the world of the legendary filmmaker Oliver Stone with this film by creating one of the most controversial films of the decade.  For all that it is worth, Natural Born Killers is a great film, albeit landing somewhere near the bottom of my “favorite things QT”, but that shouldn’t sway from the film’s brilliance, as the story was almost entirely reconstructed and removed so much of the original writer’s vision, that his name being attached to the film is simply a contractual obligation it seems.  Jane would go on to produce, alongside Don Murphy, a few other fabulous films that creating the beginnings of a wonderful career.  She managed to produce films like Apt. Pupil, Permanent Midnight, and From Hell.  But, Jane, for reasons I don’t really know (or honestly care to really research anymore than I already did) sort of fell out of the producing scene after splitting with her partner Don Murphy (who would go on to bring the world Transformers, which is a phenomenon to say the least, albeit one I couldn’t give a shit about) and has transformed into a professional blogger of sorts.  Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, and on her very own blog.  Mostly political stuff, I guess.  S0 there is that.

natural-born-killers-movie-poster-1994-1020260244So that sums up Jane Hamsher and her career to date, in my eyes anyway.  Her career is not something to laugh at entirely, but in all honesty much like the content of Killer Instinct and my poor grammar, quite disdainful.  When you really stop and take a full on look at it: what has she accomplished?  The main focal point of this book, Natural Born Killers, is a wonderful and blood spattered film that only received attention by riding toe curtain tails of the newly sought after screenwriter and filmmaker Quentin Tarantino that would have never even came to life had the legendary Oliver Stone not managed to find interest in it as a project and half-heartedly let a couple of nobodies with serious attitude problems tag along with him.  This was a project Tarantino never wanted to see come to life, but was forced to settle with a check for $350,000 and knowing that his world will be forever intertwined with the likes of the legendary Oliver Stone.  And I am not saying that Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy didn’t suffer their own stresses and challenges on their part to get this film started.  But, what became of the final product, and the short career of Hamsher and continual career of Murphy, are obviously owed to the brilliance of both Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone.  This is a fact that can be argued very easily.  Sure, they put in the work, but would these two even have jobs today if it weren’t for a good bit of luck?  If both Jane and Don where ever willing to clearly state that they essentially owe EVERYTHING they have now to these two men, I think this would do them a bit of good.

So in Killer Instinct, does Jane Hamsher recognize the fact that the only reason she made it into the business was because of the genius of one man who penned a script she managed to acquire early enough?  Or that if one of the greatest filmmakers of our generation and the previous one hadn’t become interested in the script, she would be counting greasy dollar bills at a bank in Santa Monica somewhere?  Does she have appear to have a humble bone in her entire body?  In my opinion (which of course, is not fact) the answer to all of these questions is a sad “no”.  Instead, she manages to do something that truly embodies the US Weekly quality of journalism that Killer Instinct provides.  She bashes.  She exploits.  She demonizes every single move that anyone made around her, except for her own.  Hamsher manages to profile herself as the only person she knows with a fully functional brain.  The disgrace is even aimed (a lot!) at her business partner and “friend” Don Murphy who she seems to portray an as an arrogant, junk food swilling, mindless fuck who can’t even dress himself, and one who would be nothing without her.

When I completed Killer Instinct, the complexities of emotions I felt were fierce.  Here I had been waiting all of these years to check out this book out of fear that I might hate to see my hero being demonized.  But what I came to hate about the book was so much more than some petty QT bashing.  In fact, after the first 100 pages or so, I was already discrediting every ill word stated towards the man.  It didn’t take long to notice the self-righteousness that was spilling out of each page.  It is as though Hamsher never once took the time to think that maybe when others look out for their best interests, it’s not a full on attack against you?  No, instead it was the entire world (well, at least a few naysayers in the L.A. metro area) fierce fully attacking this poor little film school grad who just wanted to get her name out there.

But in all fairness, although I believe this book reads like a very long article for the National Enquirer, it is actually very well written, and does contain some cool little snippets of knowledge of what it means to make a movie.  If you are able to look past the idea that this was a book that was basically written by a recent film school graduate who thought her “experience” and “knowledge” out-weighed that of many folks who have extremely successful careers, you might find a few interesting things to learn.  Hamsher is articulate, even funny at times.  And whilst reading a bit of her work these days, it is obvious that she has grown quite a bit.  I Jane Hamsherknow I have spent a good deal of time bashing her for what she wrote, but I do believe she has a good heart, and it seems as though her departure from the producing world was probably best for everyone.  And who knows, maybe every word she printed is right, and the odds were stacked against her so damn hard that she felt compelled to put it all on paper.  I highly doubt it.  I couldn’t verify a damn thing, but it just seems far too unrealistic to be all truth.

In the end, Natural Born Killers became a successful film, and Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy certainly deserve to be acknowledged for the work they put in, almost as much as Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone deserve credit for giving them the best bit of luck they could have ever hoped for.  While I generally disliked this book, it’s not hard to see that it is simply a period piece where some totally fucked up events happened, and made for a quite a story.  All self-righteousness aside, it is certainly a good little story.

 

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker [Book]

Age-Miracles-Karen-Thompson-Walker-Random-House-AudiobooksOn a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

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The basis behind The Age of Miracles was intriguing right from the start.  It is the perfect type of “science fiction” for a literal person such as myself, who really can’t stand “science fiction”.  When it comes to the beloved “infinite frontier”, I just don’t give a shit.  I might watch Cosmos from time to time, but only to further relay my dissidence with the fact that we are absolutely nothing to this world, and mean absolutely nothing as well.  Sort of an anti-narcissitic view if you will (unless that makes me some sort of sick diluted narcissist for thinking this way, then so be it).  But this book was something different.  It takes the concept of what could happen to us as humans when the earth stops functioning as we are used to, and how seemingly normal ways of life can be completely turned around when we don’t know how to handle new and consistent change.

This book also does something brilliant as far as telling a “coming of age story” without sliding into the horrific oblivion of Young Adult novels out there that are plaguing our society with their bullshit supernatural redirect, and just plain terrible writing.  Karen Thompson Walker manages to tell a tale of a young woman who doesn’t quite understand the world as it functions on a normal basis, let alone when everything decides to slow down, leaving the entirety of Earth’s population in literal turmoil.  Everything around her is seemingly normal, with the troubles with boys and friends and senile grandparents, just as any young girl may have.  And now she has to deal with this shit?  It is another tail of a young woman who has to come to terms with herself and her surroundings in order to survive the madness.  But, she doesn’t necessarily have to kill everyone around her for the sake of other’s bemusement.

Karen-Thompson-WalkerWalker has created a beautiful story that is in that could wonderfully fall under the reign of the likes of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.  Kaufman comes to mind simply because he takes simple ideas that are unfathomable, and most times impossible, but really makes you wonder what exactly would happen if said storyline were possible, and the effects it would have on the human psyche.  What if we could live in the mind of somebody else for 15 minutes?  What if we could completely erase somebody from our mind altogether?  And what would we do if we were forced to sustain 40 hours of daylight, followed by the same for the night?  What if everything we have ever known, which didn’t seem to great to begin with, was completely disfigured and distorted?  And the use of a young woman in this case is pretty brilliant when you starts to realize:  who the hell else sees the world in such a literal and sometimes dreary fashion?  The stereotypes of a teenaged middle class white girl are there for a reason, and this time around, the reason is the exploit the world when things fall into a complete and utter disarray.  And it is suffice to say that Karen Thompson Walker has put this subject matter on wax in a brilliant manner.

Ten: A Novelization of the Film ‘Ten’ by Jade Sylvan [Book]

TENnovelsmallwrapTen women find themselves in a vacant mansion on Spektor Island in December, 1972. Each believes she’s traveled to the house on business, but they all agree that something seems strange. For one thing, the entire house is full of pictures and statues of pigs.

The women all come from drastically different walks of life. None of them would have chosen to spend the night together in such an eerie place, but the last ferry for the mainland has just left, and a terrible storm is rolling in. Trying to make the best of an unpleasant situation, they raid the mansion’s wine cellar and throw a party. As the night creeps on, however, it becomes clear that someone–or something–has lied to get them in the house. It’s not long before someone mentions that Spektor Island is supposed to be haunted.

Of course, no one in the house believes in ghosts. At least, not until the first murder.

What do an actress, a religious zealot, a renegade, a coed, a model, a singer, a medium, a real-estate investor, a historian, and a doctor have in common? None of them is who they seem.

MICHAELJEPSTEIN.COM

Regular Trainwreck’d Society readers probably won’t be surprised to see that we have found yet another way to exploit the excellence the project known as Ten.  The film was spawned by regular TWS attendees Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola, who we simply can never get enough of around here.  The project also featured the amazingly talented writer/musician/actress/alot of stuff doer Jade Sylvan who helped write the script and starred in the film as well.  And in a with just our luck, she also managed to write the film’s novelization, being that her latest success these days has come in the form of writing.  And what she has created here is a perfect example of what can happen when brilliant and like-minded souls merge together to form a more perfect artistic union.  Between these three amazing artists and the other bright minds around them, they are like the freaking Captain Planet team of the Northeast United States.  But, alas we are talking about a book.  And what a doozy of a book it is.

With this book being a novelization, we can eleviate the whole “book is better than the film” bullshit.  It also helps that the book is written by a co-writer of the original screenplay.  And in the vein of Sylvan’s previous works, she makes a brilliant effort to create an original story out of a previous work.  This book acts as a brilliant personalization of the characters that so many have already come to love and enjoy in the film version.  And Jade does so damn well at just that.  This is a book that doesn’t simply retell a story, it is a brilliant alternate look at what each character had going through their minds during this whole ordeal.

Jade Sylvan 3 (from TEN)The concept of Ten is one that was golden right from the beginning.  If the film acts as a brilliant homage to 70’s slasher and exploration films, the book has similar effects.  It is truly hard to explain how it feels to be read words that come off as classic literature, but are about pigs, death, and a mix bag of eroticism and narcissism that provides brilliant comic relief from a gruesome tale.  I truly enjoyed this little book, although I could arguably be called out as being totally bias on the grounds that I have become such a fan boy of everything that these beautiful team has created.  And with that being said, I might as well use this space to announce that I have my fingers crossed that Jade might return to novelize Epstein and Cacciola’s new project Magnetic.  If it isn’t in the works, I suggest we all rise up and beg the best we can to make this shit happen.  Who’s coming with me?

 

Note: 2014 is the first year for book reviews at Trainwreck’d Society. We will be making a valiant effort to read and review at least 100 books. This is review #15. Be sure to stay in touch and be on the lookout for further reviews throughout 2014. Be sure to let us know if we are falling behind. For a complete list of book reviews, click HERE. Enjoy!

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen [Book]

Bad Monkey by Carl HiaasenAndrew Yancy–late of the Miami Police, soon-to-be-late of the Key West Police–has a human arm in his freezer. There’s a logical (Hiaasenian) explanation for that, but not for how and why it parted from its owner. Yancy thinks the boating-accident/shark-luncheon explanation is full of holes, and if he can prove murder, his commander might relieve him of Health Inspector duties, aka Roach Patrol. But first Yancy will negotiate an ever-surprising course of events–from the Keys to Miami to a Bahamian out island–with a crew of equally ever-surprising characters, including: the twitchy widow of the frozen arm; an avariciously idiotic real estate developer; a voodoo witch whose lovers are blinded-unto-death by her particularly peculiar charms; Yancy’s new love, a kinky medical examiner; and the eponymous Bad Monkey, who earns his place among Hiaasen’s greatest characters with hilariously wicked aplomb.

GOODREADS.COM

 

I stumbled upon this little book by Carl Hiaasen simply by process of elimination.  Our local library here has a very limited selection of audiobooks.  I’ve resorted to scouring the world wide web for books to listen to while I cook up so atrociously too crazy dinners for my family, and have had some success.  But, sometimes it is just easier to pop in a disc every once in a while without the worry of wifi signals being as distorted as tween romance connections.  But, as I mentioned, the library here is very limited.  In fact, basically anything I may be interested in, I have already featured in this series.  The last two Stephen King books I reviewed were part of this category.  And unless I really want to torture myself with some bullshit John Grisham law fiction, or the enter Fifty Shades series, the library is pretty much dead to me now.  (Note:  I do read REAL books, but the joy of audiobooks is a great blessing for a husband and father of three with a full time job.)

Carl HiaasenBut, no matter how I came across the work of Mr. Hiaasen, I am certainly glad I did.  I have previously mentioned that I am not one for books that primarily follow cops.  But, I am a big fan of comedic based mystery novels, which often times featured cops.  So, you take the good, you take the bad, take the rest and then you have….well, you get the point.  Bad Monkey turned out to be an absolutely amazing little story, that if not taken to seriously, is a fine read.  Hiaasen has a unique way of forming a story in a manner the likes of the which I have rarely known.  Bad Monkey is written in a (sort of) third person nature, but has a personalized feel for whichever character happens to be the main feature for the given chapter.  He is mostly writing for or about the book’s protagonist Andrew Yancy, but he switches it up at just the right time, to sort of understand what other key players are thinking at any given time, during whatever scenario may be occurring at that particular moment.  Although it is safe to say that the common reader is continuously going to be wishing nothing but the best for Inspector Yancy, and will be thoroughly upset when things don’t go his way, and rejoice when he makes a break through.

The “mystery” of Bad Monkey is discovered rather early on in the reading, which was sort of strange to say the least.  But, Hiaasen won’t let a reader off that damn easy!  There are still plenty of mysteries to be discovered and surprises to be found.  And while I had never heard of Hiaasen, I soon learned through the good people of the internet that this is a very common trait for this well loved author.  Folks have continuously praised the man as one of the finest comedic mystery writers of our day.  And if Bad Monkey is but one example of how great he truly is, I know that I will be digging in a bit more into this cat.

 

Note: 2014 is the first year for book reviews at Trainwreck’d Society. We will be making a valiant effort to read and review at least 100 books. This is review #14. Be sure to stay in touch and be on the lookout for further reviews throughout 2014. Be sure to let us know if we are falling behind. For a complete list of book reviews, click HERE. Enjoy!