Lullaby


Lullaby Book Cover

Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Winner: Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Association Award, 2003; Bram Stoker Award, Best Novel, 2002 (nominee)
Original Publication: 2002
Genre: Fiction, Satire, Horror

Reporter Carl Streator has lost his wife and infant daughter under mysterious circumstances. His daughter’s death, having been ruled SIDS, results in Carl being assigned to investigate local reports of crib death. As he visits nursery after nursery, he discovers that what all of these deaths have in common is a single book present: Poems and Rhymes from Around the World. Each copy is open to the same page. To Carl’s horror, he realizes that he, too, read from this book on the night his wife and daughter died.

Carl’s research reveals that the poem in question is actually a “culling song”, which has the magical power to kill anyone it is spoken aloud to. Mad with grief over recognizing that he killed his family, Carl accidentally memorizes the culling song and becomes an unintentional serial killer. Horrified with himself, Carl teams up with Helen Hoover Boyle, a witch-slash-realtor who sells the same haunted houses over and over for a living. While Helen can’t stop Carl from using the song, she agrees with him that they need to track down every existing copy of the book and destroy the page which contains the killer poem. Meanwhile, Carl’s stress has increased to the point that he no longer needs to speak the song aloud in order to kill – it has grown so powerful in his mind that he need only think the words to someone, and they drop dead.

Carl and Helen set off on their road trip, accompanied by Helen’s assistant Mona and her sociopathic environmental terrorist boyfriend, Oyster. When they find that the source of the culling song is an ancient spellbook (or grimoire), they vow to locate and destroy it as well. Their mission is further complicated by the fact that Oyster wants the grimoire for nefarious purposes, and they must keep it out of his hands. As they travel, Carl becomes increasingly disconnected from reality.

Fun Fact: The author began work on Lullaby on the heels of his father’s murder. Fred Palahniuk was dating a woman whose ex-husband, Dale Shackleford, was in prison for sexual abuse. Upon his release, Shackleford followed his former wife and Palahniuk home after a date and murdered them. Chuck Palahniuk, who had long struggled with his opinion of capital punishment, was asked to be part of the decision whether his father’s murderer should receive the death penalty.

Bother if: This was by far my favorite novel I’ve read by Chuck Palahniuk. It was funny, horrific, dark, and fascinating, and I have given away very few of the details which made it such an entertaining read. It’s also quite a bit less graphic than much of the author’s more recent work, while still retaining the imaginative qualities that make his stories so engaging. The end of the story had me on the edge of my seat, unable to stop reading. Carl Streator is an endearingly cynical character, and the reader is treated to his hilariously disjointed thoughts throughout the story.

“Centuries ago, sailors on long voyages used to leave a pair of pigs on every deserted island. Or they’d leave a pair of goats. Either way, on any future visit, the island would be a source of meat. These islands, they were pristine. These were home to breeds of birds with no natural predators. Breeds of birds that lived nowhere else on earth. The plants there, without enemies they evolved without thorns or poisons. Without predators and enemies, these islands, they were paradise. The sailors, the next time they visited these islands, the only things still there would be herds of goats or pigs… Does this remind you of anything? Maybe the ol’ Adam and Eve story? …You ever wonder when God’s coming back with a lot of barbecue sauce?”

Don’t Bother if: If you’re already a fan of the author’s work, you will enjoy this story. If you’re curious about the author and looking to put your toe in, Lullaby is an excellent place to start. Like many of Palahniuk’s stories, however, this is no exception in that it contains disturbing sexual interludes, violence, murder, and the unsettling habits of the mentally unbalanced.

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Memories of My Melancholy Whores (Memoria de Mis Putas Tristes)


Memories of My Melancholy Whores Book Cover

Original Title: Memoria de Mis Putas Tristes
Winner: Nobel Prize for Literature (awarded to author, not this particular novel), 1982
Original Language: Spanish
Translation: Edith Grossman, 2005
Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Original Publication: 2004
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Novella

“The year I turned 90, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”

So begins the tale of our nameless small-town newspaper columnist and the 14-year old prostitute he dubs “Delgadina.” Lest one think that the ‘ick’ factor is too high before we even begin, I will assure you that it isn’t. This isn’t Lolita. Gabriel Garcia Marquez deals in unlikely romance, and this novella is no exception. Our hero calls local madam and old friend Rosa Cabarcas, who tells him in no uncertain terms that he is out of his mind. “…it can’t be done, she said without the slightest doubt, but it doesn’t matter, it’s more exciting this way, what the hell, I’ll call you in an hour.”

Time and time again when he slips into bed with the sleeping girl, he can’t bring himself to wake her. They are ships passing in the night. Nonetheless, he finds himself falling in love with Delgadina at age 90; an adolescent romance come full circle at the end of his life. He reflects upon his past conquests – hundreds of them – and muses that he has never made love to a woman whom he has not paid. He paints a picture of one too terrified to love for the entirety of his life; even leaving his fiancee at the altar as a young man. It is a comical turn for a man of his age: all his life, he has been offered love which he did not return. How torturous to finally experience love unrequited!

He reflects upon his past romances, turning his newspaper column into a series of “love letters for everyone.” This results in a resurgence of his popularity as finally he isn’t simply a doddering and cranky old man, he is someone everyone can see a bit of themselves in. Without giving anything away, I was particularly fond of the passages where he describes his housekeeper, who pined over him for 22 years, and of the passages describing running into the woman he left at the altar and her revenge. It’s a fun juxtaposition to listen to him recollect them with such fondness; yet these are women whom you know he did not love. One comes to understand that he has never traded love for any of the things he could have had for it – a wife, children, family, companionship, partnership. He has been offered everything, yet has never accepted if there was not love. Despite all of his faults and ridiculous shortcomings, he has a queer sort of integrity.

Fun Fact: A Persian edition of Memories of My Melancholy Whores was published in Iran in October 2007, under the title “Memories of My Melancholy Sweethearts.” The first edition of 5K sold out within three weeks of publication, after which it was banned after the Ministry of Culture received complaints from conservatives who believed the novel was promoting prostitution. The novella can be read online for free in its entirety here.

Bother if: It’s a novella by a man who, up until his death in April 2014, was arguably the world’s greatest living author. It is also short enough to be read in a sitting. What more excuse do you need? I thought that the story was delightfully told, and Edith Grossman’s translation is very accessible. Having read an English translation of Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera which was quite difficult, this was refreshing and made me fall in love with his writing all over again. Part of what makes the story such fun is that one rarely has an opportunity to see the world from the point of view of a man his age. Yes, he’s cantankerous and set in his ways, but he’s also a romantic, a poet, a man with a sense of humor, a man with regrets, a sexual being. By the end, I was utterly charmed.

Don’t Bother if: There is sex, although nothing graphically depicted. No character is sexualized to any sort of distasteful degree, but some of the subject matter is a bit questionable. After all, it is the story of a man who has gleefully patronized prostitutes for his entire life, and wishes for his final ‘hurrah’, so to speak, to be a virgin first-time prostitute 76 years his junior. It’s also a romance, if an atypical one, and highly poetic. Lovers of Marquez’ other novels will enjoy it. Those who find his writing style too flowery or the premise offensive should skip this one.

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Sexing the Cherry


Sexing the Cherry Book Cover

Author: Jeanette Winterson
Original Publication: 1989
Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism
#187 on “1,001 Books to Read Before You Die”

On the surface, Sexing the Cherry is the story of an abandoned baby boy, and the grotesque giantess who finds him on the grimy banks of the Thames. Beneath the surface, the novel is part history, part reality, part past, present, and future, and a lot of magic and fairy tale. Set in 17th century England during Oliver Cromwell and Charles I’s time, we are plunged into the world of Jordan and the murderous Dog-Woman; who is, in the author’s words, “perhaps the only woman in English fiction confident enough to use filth as a fashion accessory.”

Jordan, infected from a young age with wanderlust, befriends John Tradescant, explorer and gardener to the King. The Dog-Woman has always known he will leave her. She recalls bringing Jordan to court at age three to see a curiosity – a banana, and the first ever to arrive in England. The townspeople gathered around, clucking and making remarks, and a fortune-teller tells the Dog-Woman that while many will love Jordan, he will only love once, and his beloved will destroy him.

“…I noticed a woman whose face was a sea voyage I had not the courage to attempt.”

Jordan sets sail with Tradescant, all the while chasing a dancer he once met, who may or may not be the twelfth dancing princess from the famous fairy tale. The Dog-Woman passes her time attempting to make sense of what God wants for her, and from her. She exacts eye-for-an-eye revenge on a hypocritical neighbor, and takes the preached metaphor so literally that she ends up lining her watercress beds with human teeth to aid the drainage. The juxtaposition of the intellectual simplicity of the Dog-Woman and her keen insight into humanity is extremely well done. I recall chuckling at a passage where she bites off a man’s penis (in her ignorance of how fellatio should be performed), because she thinks that they grow back like lizard’s tails. After spending time in a whorehouse, she realizes that penises do not regenerate. Rather than be horrified at disfiguring the previous man, she is amused and thinks to herself that it is indeed unfortunate for men that penises DON’T grow back, seeing as how according to everything she knows, men don’t seem to be very mindful of where they put them.

Fun Fact: Obviously, Jordan and the Dog-Woman are fictional characters, but the backdrop of 17th-century London contains real historical figures. Most notably, I learned that John Tradescant was a real person – botanist, explorer, and royal gardener who brought the first pineapple to England. Historical fiction novelist Philippa Gregory’s “Earthly Joys” is about John Tradescant.

Bother if: This book was very different than most I have read, and was a short, enjoyable read. The story bounces around periods, indicating that time is not a linear construct and that the past, present, and future do not exist. There are houses which are all ceilings and no floors, a floating city in the clouds, and, of course, twelve dancing princesses. There is a little girl whose body grows large enough to encompass her personality, and a little boy who still believes in the magic of the moon. “People say the magic has gone out of the moon now that someone’s stood on it. I don’t think so. It would take more than a man’s foot to steal the moon.” I particularly enjoyed the poetic language and the metaphysical aspects of the story.

Don’t Bother if: To say that the Dog-Woman is rough around the edges is to put it far too mildly. She is repulsive in every facet except her heart. There are also depictions of murder, revenge, rape, torture, dismemberment, and sex including prostitution, group sex, homosexuality, necrophilia, and more. None are graphically told (the mental pictures you supply yourself are more than sufficient), but this is not a novel for everyone, and particularly not younger than mid-teens, depending on the level of maturity. There are also depictions of public executions characteristic of the time period, which were commonplace then and seem particularly brutal today. I thought that it was a wonderfully unique and entertaining story and would recommend it, but I was taken aback by some things. That said, the violence in the story did serve to paint a full picture, rather than simply being there for its own sake or for shock value. The narrative also shifts between characters and time periods. While I did not find it confusing in this instance, some dislike that style of storytelling.

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Sweatpants & Coffee


Sweatpants & Coffee As all of you know, I never use this space to promote anything but my book reviews. In this case, however, today’s launch of Sweatpants & Coffee is close to my heart. You see, I am a web designer by trade, in addition to being an extremely lazy (of late) book blogger. I jumped at the opportunity to build Sweatpants & Coffee because I believe in their mission – to inspire and encourage people to be their very best selves.

On Sweatpants & Coffee, you will find comfort in all of its forms. Television recaps, recipes, mental health notes, clothes, books, health & wellness issues, and much more. There is even some talk of featuring yours truly, in a column tentatively titled “Classics Worth Reading.” If all goes to plan, I’ll be bringing my famous ‘bother if / don’t bother if’ sensibilities to a brand new audience. Don’t worry, I’ll still be blogging here; hopefully more often than I have recently. (Don’t judge me! I’ve been busy finishing college and becoming gainfully employed!)

In the near future, I’ll be reviewing the following for Bucket List Media:

Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
Candide – Voltaire
The Cider House Rules – John Irving
Born Standing Up – Steve Martin
Inferno – Dan Brown

And much more! In the meantime, please check out sweatpantsandcoffee.com, or like them on Facebook here to join in and receive your daily dose of validation. You deserve it.

Thank you for reading, and treat yourselves well.

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Forged In Grace


Forged in Grace Book Cover

Author: Jordan Rosenfeld
Original Publication: 2013
Genre: Fiction, Supernatural, Independent

Grace Jensen is a lonely girl of twenty-eight. A terrible accident at the age of fifteen resulted in burns over most of her body, leaving poor Grace a literal prisoner of her own flesh. Physical contact is excruciating. Her relationships are complicated. Not because Grace complicates them, but because everyone in her world seems to be as damaged on the inside as Grace is on the outside. Her peculiar mother, with whom she lives, is a hoarder. Her handsome boss seems to not know quite what to make of her, despite his sweetness. Her former best friend, Marly, has not been seen since the night of the fire.

On the day that Marly’s beloved grandmother Oona dies, Grace receives a mysterious phone call which she believes may be Marly reaching out to her. Despite her mother’s misgivings and having felt abandoned by her best friend for the past thirteen years, Grace decides to attend the funeral and confront her past. She is immediately drawn back into Marly’s gravity, and decides to follow Marly back to Las Vegas in order to rekindle their friendship. Marly’s life is unsurprisingly anything but peaceful or healthy, and Grace is thrust into a whirlwind of secrets, lies, violence, and mermaids.

In the wake of Marly having been beaten, Grace discovers within herself the miraculous ability to heal by the laying on of hands, and empathic powers bordering on the psychic. With the help (or perhaps in spite of) Marly, her friend Drew, and a mysterious man named Gus – who wears his pain literally tattooed on his face – Grace must learn to control her power. She is torn between harnessing it for what she believes to be good, while simultaneously being ripped in dozens of directions by others, including her own heart. Grace can heal the flesh of others, but can she heal her own? Can she light the darkness which threatens to eat Marly from the inside out, or will it consume Grace with it?

I cannot say more about the plot without giving away key points, and you definitely don’t want to miss this book. I rarely read independent authors (and indeed this is the first independently published novel I have reviewed for this site), but Forged in Grace is a treat and a wild ride from start to finish. The imagery is powerful and engaging, and I found myself drawn into Grace’s world, Marly’s insanity, and the simultaneously seedy and delightful chaos of Sin City. The only complaint I had about the book is that I wish that more had been made of Grace’s relationship with Adam, her boss. I got the impression that Grace worked for a combination wildlife sanctuary / general medical practice for humans, and I’m not sure what it was. This could have been due to the fact that it was indeed confusing, or due to the fact that I was so hungry to find out what happened next that I missed some key point along the way. Regardless, it is a testament to Rosenfeld’s skill in crafting her characters that the only fault I found in the story was that there wasn’t more of it.

Fun Fact: Author Jordan Rosenfeld (jordanrosenfeld.net) works as a writing coach, editor, and freelance journalist, and also keeps a blog entitled “My Big Mouth” at Indie-Visible. Her nonfiction book Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time has sold more than twenty thousand copies. She lives in California with her husband and son.

Bother if: This was a fast and engaging read, and quite unlike anything I had ever read before. Seeing the world through the eyes of a severe burn victim in what seemed to be fairly accurate fashion was intriguing to me, as was the faith healing aspect of the story. Many of us can also relate to having had a friendship which was unhealthy, or with a profoundly unhealthy person. I found myself nodding my head in many places. I think that this is a story that most people would be able to enjoy. You may find it on Amazon.

Don’t Bother if: The story contains elements of the supernatural, faith healing, brief (if not terribly graphic) depictions of sex, and some violence. You may want to skip this one if you have any particular objections to those things. If you’re worried about Forged in Grace coming off as “chick-lit”, however, it doesn’t. I never use the term “chick-lit” in a derogatory sense, but I recognize that it doesn’t appeal to everyone as a genre. This book, despite being about female friendship dynamics on some level, doesn’t really veer into that territory.

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