Archives for category: Patsy

mindy kalingGenre: Nonfiction, Humor, Essays

Notes: Book 1/50.  I want to hang out with Mindy Kaling

Review: Mindy Kaling is adorable in an “I’m a (mostly) respectful daughter of Indian immigrant parents, I don’t do drugs and didn’t drink in high school, and come from a place that any awkward girl can identify.” In case you don’t know who Kaling is, she is a writer on The Office and also plays Kelly Kapoor in the show. She also writes and stars in her own show The Mindy Project. Mindy seems so refreshingly real and a welcome break from more generic celebrities who fit the mold of what America finds desirable and attractive. As sad as it is, most women who are hilariously funny find themselves behind the camera more often than in front of it if they don’t fit the standard of American beauty. You know, size 2, petite, pretty face, etc. I mean, Tina Fey had to lose like 30 pounds before she could get on television (even though Liz Lemon on 30 Rock fantasizes about food and eats like shit and should NOT be as skinny as she is, but that’s a rant for another day), but Mindy somehow snuck her way onto television without us taking a ton of notice or shouting “Hey! She’s breaking those norms!” I mean, really, she’s a pretty woman who probably fits the average American woman’s body. She’s a size 8. I’m a size 8. But compared to the twiglets in Hollywood, she probably feels like a bloated whale who is always stuck in a navy blue dress. (Which is apparently the color they dress anyone over a size 4 in because someone decided it was flattering)

This book isn’t Bossypants, but it’s a fun, quick read about someone who has been wildly successful in Hollywood as a writer and actress. Kaling makes you feel like anything is possible as long as you just keep at it. The way Kaling tells it, it took one super successful entry into the International Fringe Festival to get her noticed and get a spot as one of the writers on The Office. She embodies the American Dream because he parents immigrated from India to give their children a better life here and what immigrant parents doesn’t harbor the desire that their child will become a star in America? (Or a doctor or lawyer more likely) She provides an interesting narrative on what it means to grow up Indian in America and not quite fit into the WASP-y American ideal as a child. (The school pictures she includes in the book are priceless). However, I think Kaling barely skims the surface on what could be a deeper discussion about the lack of diversity in Hollywood or not fitting into the standard body in Hollywood. It’s not my book (obviously), and I’m sure Kaling skirted around those topics for a reason.

Bottom Line: This book is cute, funny, and light. It takes all of a day or so to read so if you’re looking for something to read on a plane or on a lazy Sunday, this is the book for you.

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Genre: Fiction, Intrigue, Eclectic Bookstores

Notes: 26/50 Books. This is totally a book for bibliophiles.

Review: I can’t gush over this book enough.  It combines secret societies, mystery, and old dusty bookstores into one hell of a book. People who don’t love books like I do might not understand this, but books are magical.  Sloan understands the magic of books and the secret to immortality locked away in novels (not too much of a spoiler, go cry about it.)

Basically, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hr bookstore operates in San Francisco and stays open around the clock.  (What bookstore stays open 24/7? I must find one!  Although it would probably be a front for a drug or prostitution ring.) Our protagonist, Clay Jannon, works in this interesting bookstore but finds it rather odd that Mr. Penumbra doesn’t stock almost any normal books.  He stocks almost exclusively stocks books in code. Which an assortment of weird people dash into the store in varying states of disarray to buy. You see, these “believers” if you will, believe that the secret to immortality lies within the code if they can only crack it. Not like, I will write a book and live forever Shakespeare immortality, but for real I will never die immortality.  They’re a strange but mostly likeable bunch.

The true coolness of the story (that might make it feel dated in ten years unfortunately) is the marriage of old technology (books) with new technology (Google).  The union of the two different technologies shows how much literature, knowledge, and the way people receive it has changed. Technology and computers and kindle don’t replace literature, but work with it.  In the novel, Google employs their best cryptographers to crack the code in Mr. Penumbra’s books.  It remains elusive.  When I read that, it made me happy because it seemed like too much of an easy answer.  I mean, here are these people devoting their lives to cracking this code and learning as much as possible and for a computer to crack it in an afternoon is almost sacrilege. It felt to me like computers are only worth the person controlling them, they are only a tool. When I say this is a book for bibliophiles, I don’t mean people who have a stick up their butt and won’t even consider any other mediums for literature (Audiobooks, e-books, etc).  I mean people who simply enjoy the written word and a good turn of phrase.  I mean people who want to read every book in the world and dive into a novel and never come up for air.  I mean the people who’ve dreamed about escaping to Hogwarts or Narnia or the Shire. Sloan utilizes every literature medium in his story and paints a more optimistic picture for the future of books and bookstores because there will always be people searching for knowledge and the meaning of life between their pages.

“After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:
A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.” – Robin Sloan

Bottom Line: Definitely worth the read!  One of the most interesting, best, and clever books I’ve read this year. It’s the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Notes: Book 24/50 North Korea is..interesting.

Review: I prepared myself for the book to disappoint me.  It has been hyped over the last year and every book club in America has probably read it.  (Mine is too)  But I am happy to say that Johnson did not disappoint!  I’ve never read a book set in North Korea, probably because the entire country cloaks itself in secrecy and mystery. We hear stories about work camps, starvation, and (when Kim Jong Il died recently) the adoration for their Dear Leader and his distinct pompadour.

While writing and researching this novel, Johnson actually received the opportunity to travel to Pyonyang and see North Korea for himself, which lends an air of authenticity to the narrative.  I’m sure he only heard the approved version of North Korean history and saw only approved sites but nevertheless, he stepped foot in North Korea.

This novel follows an orhpan who isn’t really an orphan named Pak Jun Do. He never knew his mother and grew up in an orphanage as his father was the orhpan master.  Consequently, he is mistaken for an orphan for the rest of his life and gets assigned to terrible duties like tunnel digging in the DMZ and kidnapping unsuspecting Japanese and South Koreans at night.  Pak’s life is ridiculous.  I mean, the trajectory his life takes from a simple misunderstanding of mistaken identity by American diplomats creates what is essentially a suspense thriller.  This novel isn’t just about North Korea and how insane and unpredictable of a place it can be, but how people can cope under extreme circumstances. It helps break the sort of cookie-cutter mold of poor people winning their circumstances and breaking free by offering a less than perfect protagonist.  Pak Jun Do kills people.  He sometimes operates under questionable morals and could probably be best categorized as opportunistic rather than an all around good guy.

Probably the best part of the book is how the communist government broadcasts Pak’s story in one chapter while in the next, we get Pak’s version.  The difference between the two is striking and helps readers understand how difficult truth is to come by in this regime. Plus, again, it offers that air of authenticity from Johnson’s painstaking research and visits to North Korea.  It feels real.

Bottom Line: The book is totally worth the hype! There are slightly graphic torture scenes which might turn some people off, but it’s the offhand way some truly awful things are mentioned that reall stuck with me after reading this book. Also, after reading this novel, I’m glad Kim Jong Il is dead.

Genre: Non-Fiction

Notes: 23/50 Chilling, well-researched, and fascinating.  About time someone got it right

Review: While I don’t remember Columbine as well as others (I was in elementary school at the time), I still remember vague echoes of horror and a little tightening around my parents about sending my sister and I off to school.  In my mind, this is the first school shooting that really rattled America and made school seem like a battlefield rather than the safety it was supposed to provide.

I remember hearing about Cassie Bernall because I want to a small, evangelical Christian school, and they lived for modern day martyrs. Cullen debunks the rumor that “she said yes” about her faith in God before Eric Harris shot her in the face.  And you know what’s so great about this book?  There’s no malice.  Cullen didn’t set out to tear the rug out from under the Bernall family and prove their daughter didn’t die for her faith, as they hoped.  He just reported the facts as he understood them. There’s no shaming the community, the police response, or blaming the Harris or Klebold families for raising sons who murdered fellow classmates.  This account simply is.

Cullen presents a painstakingly researched account of what happened at Columbine that day in 1999, an attempt to explain why, and how the community struggled to rebuild and come to terms with what happened.

What

What exactly happened that day?  Or, really, what didn’t happen?  Columbine wasn’t just meant to be a school shooting, Eric and Dylan weren’t two loners who snapped at jocks, they weren’t a part of the Trench Coat Mafia, or any of the other silly rumors circling after the shooting.  It was a bombing gone wrong.  Eric and Dylan didn’t want to shoot specific students or have a hit list, they wanted to kill everyone.  When police and emergency personnel rushed to the scene, they wanted to blow up Dylan’s car to increase the body count even more.  The guns were merely to pick of stragglers picking their way out of the wreckage of a bombed school.

Cullen was a member of the media covering Columbine and they made serious leaps of faith with little facts and primarily contributed to the myths and rumors that surround Columbine to this day.  In my opinion, this was the first truly American strategy that played out on television with the 24/7 news machine.  Reporters constantly vamp and speculate when new information isn’t available in an attempt to keep the audience engaged.  The leaps they made were logical leaps but ultimately untrue.

Why

The first question people tend to ask when something like this happens is “Why?”  We need to know motive.  It helps us tie things into neat little packages.  We need a world that makes sense and follows rules.  Outcasts picked on one too many times fit the bill.  It made sense.  Sad, tragic, yes.  But unfathomable?  No.

Unfortunately, Eric and Dylan didn’t fit into these boxes.  The FBI’s assessment of Eric concluded that he was a psychopath.  He simply enjoyed killing.  There was no motive that prompted his killing.  He simply liked to watch people suffer.  He felt no empathy and very little emotion even though he could charm the pants off of any adult who felt any suspicion toward him.  Dylan simply hated his life and needed a direction – he followed Eric because it offered him a way out, it seems.

When I read this account, and I couldn’t help but think of the shooting in Aurora, CO in the movie theater of the Dark Knight Rises premiere. When I heard, I was disgusted and sad.  It hit me harder than I thought it would because my friends and I frequently see midnight premieres.  I wanted a motive.  Why would anyone do this?  What purpose does it serve?  But, unfortunately, I think reading this book gave me the answer.  He did it to do it.  Killing people was the motive, not the result. He likens himself to the Joker in the series.  Like Alfred said “some men just want to watch the world burn.”

How

The community, obviously rattled struggled for years to become normal again.  Long after the world stopped paying attention to them and long after (sadly) the nation really cared anymore.  There were lawsuits, angry parents, and students on suicide watch constantly.  Cullen’s interviews and portrayal of the principal, Mr. D, are refreshing. That man deserves a medal for taking care of his students as well as he did.

Eventually, the community reclaimed Columbine High School.  Even while today Columbine is synonymous with “school shooting,” students wanted their school back and shouted “We are..COL-um-BINE” to reclaim their identity and their pride. The world crushes us all, but they became stronger in the broken places, as Hemingway so gracefully puts it.

Bottom Line: Forget everything you thought you knew about Columbine.  This book isn’t depressing or gruesome or graphic.  It is just an attempt at an accurate account of that day and those involved. Highly recommend!

Genre: YA Dystopian Literature

Notes: 22/50 (no way I’m gonna make 50 books by the end of the year..blurgh.  The challenge continues another year)

Review: Okay, so I liked this book better than the first one of the series. Maybe because I’ve grown accustomed to the spelling and understand the political situation on New World a little more.  Plus I’ve gotten used to the NOISE.

To me, this novel (and the series) grapples with the question of “What is it to be a man?”  And it’s a question we see today.  A disturbing amount of teenage boys (and girls) think being violent and not allowing any “disrespect” is what makes a man.  In this society, men are only men if they have killed another man.  The refrain “We are the choices we make” echoes throughout the book and forces people to consider what kind of people they want to be.

Our protagonists Todd and Viola are separated for most of this book and each has to make his/her own choices.  What does it mean to be a man/woman?  What side of this war am I on?

As much as this story is about Viola and Todd and their choices, the villains in this story aren’t really villains, which makes their choices that much harder.  In the first book, it is easy to see Mayor Prentiss (now President) as a stock villain. However, book 2 explains his motives and his absolute conviction that his antics will bring peace to New World/New Prentisstown/Haven. He reminds me of the Mayor in the Walking Dead series in the way that he probably doesn’t see himself as a bad man – but he has to do bad things to keep the peace and get things done. He sees himself as a hero and as a man who has to do the dirty work no one else has the balls to do.

Mistress Coyle, the woman who is trying to overthrow him, is even more confusing.  She means well, I’m sure of it and I’m positive I would be on her side.  But she does…regrettable…things to strike back at the president’s men.  She reminded me a lot of Coin in The Hunger Games series.  A strong woman who did necessary evils, but unfortunately has all of the trappings of a dictator herself.  Even if she believes what she is doing is right, her means are no more justified than the tyrant she attempts to overthrow.

My one critique of the story lies in Todd and Viola.  I found them a bit irritating.  I can’t explain why exactly, but their love for each other and obsession with each other didn’t feel real to me. They’re 14.  It is one of the primary reasons I despise the premise of Romeo and Juliet.  They’re no overt sexual tension, but their feelings are so damn intense (maybe I’ve forgotten what it means to be a teenager already?  I’m sure my 14 year old self would defend that plenty of 14 year olds have intense feelings.  Isn’t that one of the hallmarks of adolescence?) but my jaded 24 year old self could not accept these characters were 14.  However, I will acquiesce and say that they have gone through more than most people do in a lifetime and that has aged them prematurely (they’ve killed for godsakes) and their shared experiences forged a bond stronger than most people see in their lifetimes.   And Todd just giving up because Viola “abandoned” him made me want to throw down the book in disgust.

Also, minor quibble: the font change between Todd and Viola’s chapters was annoying.  They weren’t different enough to announce THIS IS A DIFFERENT CHAPTER in capital letters.  And why do we need to differentiate them still further?  Each chapter had either TODD or VIOLA printed neatly at the top so we would know who narrated the section.  I am competent enough to follow those cues without the text changing, thanks.

Bottom Line: On the whole, good book.  Very emotional.  Very intense. It’s a little contrived and has been done before (YA dystopia, can’t get enough), but I can’t wait until I can get my hands on book 3 because this one left us with a cliffhanger!

Genre: Fiction

Notes:21/50

Review: This review won’t be very long, so..sorrynotsorry. This book is fine.  Shawn Goodman obviously cares deeply about the subject of juvenile detention and the vicious cycle these young girls are trying to break.  His bio in the back of the book mentions that he works as a counselor in these institutions and has based the book off of a lot of things he’s seen – from the people who genuinely want to help to the corrupt people in the system who live to break these girls.

The book sparks a little of my idealist spirit (swore I wanted to help people, but haven’t found the right niche yet.  I applied to Peace Corps and chickened out without submitting the application 3 times and get rejected from Teach For America), and it’s a very quick read.  I found it in the YA section when I was browsing my local library and picked it up on a whim.

But to be honest, this trope is tired.  It has been done with The Blind Side.  Touches on it in The Help.  Books in this vein don’t start of this way, but the end of seeming like “benevolent white person helps disadvantaged black person.” I mean, sometimes it is the nature of the situation.  Unfortunately, a lot of the youths in detention centers are disproportionately African American while most of the counselors and administrators are white.   What are you supposed to do?  Not help them?  Obviously not.  But books like these saturate the market so the power Goodman is going for and the plea that youths in juvenile detention centers deserve more falls on deaf ears.  We’ve heard it before.  We’ve seen it before.  It’s old.

Is it just me?  What does anyone else think?

Bottom Line: Not really worth reading. Unless, like me, you’re bored and have nothing else to read!

Genre: Memoir

Notes: 20/50 books.  Slightly funny throughout with some legitimately pee your pants hilarious moments.

Review: OMIGOSH I love Jenny Lawson.  I read her blog, thebloggess, regularly and snort with laughter as she describes her love affair with taxidermied animals, her relationship with her saint of a husband, and her wild country life in the Texas hills.

I love Jenny Lawson, but I probably wouldn’t be he friend.  Reading her blog is hilarious, but he book is slightly exhausting.  It’s totally manic, neurotic, and panicky.  She openly admits she has an anxiety disorder, struggles with depression, and a whole host of other issues like rheumatoid arthritis and gets her point across – it is tough living in Jenny Lawson’s head.  And you know what? I totally get that.  I also come across much better and put together over email, blog, or text.  I can come off as witty when I have a chance to think about my response whereas in person, I mostly just say awkward things.

So, some of these chapters tend to get overwhelming, but it keeps a pretty even keel of funny moments.  However, there are some moments that are legitimately hilarious.  One of my favorite chapters/stories is from her blog: Beyonce the Metal Chicken.  I had read this about a year earlier when my friend sent me the link – I almost spit coffee all over my office computer.  And the chapter where Jenny ate wayyyy too much Ex-Lax and she thought her cat was a rapist – that sounds weird typing it, but I cried reading that chapter.  Cried in a good way.

Basically, I don’t know if Jenny Lawson should have a whole novel.  Or, maybe, she just needs a better editor.  I think all of the material is there, but I’m not sure the execution is there.  Some of the chapters are pure genius (the chapter about the shit she dealt with in HR was amazing), but most of the chapters lack direction.  She creates great moments of hilarious-ness, but lacks a narrative thread.  It is mostly musings from Jenny Lawson which is perfect for a blog but less perfect for an entire book.

The thing I liked most about the book is the Jenny finally comes to the realization that weird is good.  Weird is interesting. (which might be her narrative thread, but it gets lost)  Nerdy people rule the world, and everyone is a little bit crazy.  I like to think I’ve embraced my nerdiness and have become more myself as I’ve gotten older, and I’ve rarely ever yearned to fit in. I mostly didn’t give a shit about what anyone thought by high school and did my own thing.  Being weird is cool! I feel like I’m going to tell this to my tween when she is 12 and she’s going to punch me. Regardless, weird > not weird.

After I read this book, I was drinking beer on a rooftop deck at the beach and the wind was making the can move a little.  I put my hand around the can, not touching it, and concentrated really hard.  When the can moved because of the wind again, I felt like a magician.  I promptly told my friends that I was a magician and offered absolutely no follow up or reasons why I felt like a magician.  I’m pretty sure they thought I was drunk, but it’s really just the Jenny Lawson Effect.

Bottom Line: Read this book.  It’s worth it!