One of my students recently lamented the death of fashion. She said she wished people had more occasion to dress formally, other than prom and a few wOne of my students recently lamented the death of fashion. She said she wished people had more occasion to dress formally, other than prom and a few weddings. Having just read this book, I told her about Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Gloria Guinness, etc., and found images online of these hauntingly, professionally beautiful women from an era in which it was their duty to be lovely, to be seen places and to give perfect parties.
I confess that my favorite escapist reading is about rich white people...especially New Yorkers and especially from the Mad Men era. Also being a Southerner, I know way more about Truman Capote than I even want to. This book brings this era and these glorious women heartbreakingly to life in a satisfying, believable story. But what do I know? Maybe people who really knew these people would see it differently. For me, however, it was like Godiva truffles. The intimacy, especially with Babe Paley. Her ironclad beauty regimen. Her touching insecurity that made her never let her husband see her without full makeup and dentures, even in bed. Buying three pairs of the same shoes so there would be a pair at each of her houses. Being pampered at Kenneth's--or not going, because he didn't make house calls. The gossip. Lunches at the Palm Court. And above all, the fabulous Black and White Ball. Then Capote's inevitable downhill slosh. Melanie Benjamin does justice to it all, and it's delicious.
Thanks to Netgalley for providing an advance reading copy....more
The author's first book, The Language of Flowers, grabbed me in an odd way, and this one does, too. It features quirky, unique characters who begin thThe author's first book, The Language of Flowers, grabbed me in an odd way, and this one does, too. It features quirky, unique characters who begin the story in a very bad place emotionally and physically, and then by the end of the book things are a little better. There has been growth, and learning, and a willingness to open up to the possibility of love.
As a high school librarian I appreciate what Diffenbaugh did in both books, which is to craft a story that will appeal to both adults and teens. Depending on how you look at it, one protagonist is Letty Espinosa, a 30-something emotional wreck of a mother who has allowed her own mom to take over the raising of her two children. The other protagonist is her son Alex, a precocious 9th-grader who is a great kid and straight-A student despite all he has to deal with.
When the saintly yet undocumented abuelos abruptly decide to go back to Mexico to live, Letty can't cope with having to suddenly be a mother. There is also a truly inspired six-year-old brat, Luna, who would drive any mom to drink.
I just loved the characters, loved the San Francisco-area setting, loved the infusion of Latino culture, food, and mixology (Letty meets an ambitious bartender at work). In "Flowers," we enjoy learning the poetic meanings of flowers. In "Wings," Alex's grandfather is an artist who works with feathers, and we learn science stuff about how a bird's feather gives a fingerprint of where it has been and what it has ingested. It is always charming to meet characters who are passionate about something you've never considered.
The plot also drew me in and kept me reading long after I should have been asleep. I guess since Kindles, I have become aware that many novels follow the classic form in which the climax comes about 50% into the book, and then everything else falls out and resolves from there. In this book, however, some major plot business comes in about 80% into the story and you can't put it down.
I received a review copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest opinion....more
I thought this was just the right amount of fun and horror and grossness for anyone from middle school through college to adulthood. Whoever loved PanI thought this was just the right amount of fun and horror and grossness for anyone from middle school through college to adulthood. Whoever loved Pan's Labyrinth will love this. Trollhunters is probably more accessible to mass audiences, though, for its thoroughly American contemporary setting. I haven't seen the Hellboy movies, so I can't speak to that, but if you like Guillermo del Toro's movies, this book is for you.
An ordinary 15-year-old loser finds himself sucked into an underworld of trolls and junkyards in which an epic battle for the city of San Bernardino is about to take place. I'm not sure how to trace the contributions of each author, but the book manages to be both richly descriptive and fast-paced. It's not just compellingly visual; it also conjures all the disgusting sounds and smells of your nightmares.
In the above-ground world, there really are monsters under the bed. Children go missing. At first, the scariest thing to happen to Jim Sturges, Jr., is that he is chosen to play Romeo in a football-stadium production of "RoJu." Until the going gets weird, the school bully is a handsome, well-dressed athlete who menacingly dribbles a basketball--constantly. But then our protagonist discovers a whole other world in which he has a role to play as a trollhunter.
The monsters are detailed and imaginative and disgusting. Some are actually friendly. To kill a troll, one must pierce the heart and the "softies," and also take the gallbladder, which must be burned or else more trolls will regenerate out of it. One type of troll, the Nullhullers, can vomit up their organs in order to inhabit babies as changelings. There is a Malevolent Eye that has its own intelligence.
It's all stuff you really want to see as a movie. The book contains excellent color illustrations which I hope are storyboards. The ending leaves one tiny little crack from which to build a sequel, but otherwise wraps up satisfyingly. I think this will mostly appeal to guys, but there is a strong and interesting female character who excels at British cursing, drama, and fencing. Also there is something iconic and symbolic about one character who is forever going to be 13 years old, but I don't want to spoil anything.
Thanks to NetGalley for providing an advance reading copy....more
An engaging, delightfully gothic middle grade read. Warren is the 13th in a line to own a hotel that has seen better days. But mystery and magic beginAn engaging, delightfully gothic middle grade read. Warren is the 13th in a line to own a hotel that has seen better days. But mystery and magic begin to stir things up to form a fast-paced, satisfying concoction reminiscent of Roald Dahl, Lemony Snicket, and maybe even the Grand Budapest Hotel.
I will not pretend to predict whether this will be a hit, but my inner child liked it. I love hotels; the older and quirkier, the better. They are marvelous places for the imagination. I loved the scenes in which Warren was engaged in the Herculean tasks of mending and cleaning the rooms; this served to make him into a character with some grit even before the magic is unleashed. Also I think Scalene is the best name ever for a witch.
The advance review copy I received from Netgalley did not contain finished artwork, but I'm sensing that it is a graphically outstanding book, and I will seek it out once it is in print. I can also see movie potential....more
What a fascinating time capsule! This book is a portrait of country music in its golden age--before cable tv, before the Vietnam War protests got uglyWhat a fascinating time capsule! This book is a portrait of country music in its golden age--before cable tv, before the Vietnam War protests got ugly, before Opryland.
The author, an actual Southerner, rides shotgun on lonely highways with performers, has a malt liquor at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, and sits in the studio with beloved local DJs as they shoot the breeze with a caller from the hardware store down the street.
He traces the roots of country music through Appalachia back to Britain: "The music was made for singing, in the distinctive, high-pitched, wailing, untrained Appalachian style, and...it was a highly personal music intended to be played and sung at home or on the village square or at such functions as barn-raisings and picnics and church meetings. This type of music can still be heard on the Grand Ole Opry...with the high nasal harmony that was taught a century ago by singing-school masters who...taught shape-note singing through the church....Songs meant more to the illiterate Southerners than sermons did, camp meetings offered a stage for the music, and the emotionalism of the Southern religion spilled over to the music."
Hemphill traces these roots and discusses the artistic feuding between the traditionalists, who didn't want drums or electric guitars on stage at the Opry, and the more modern pop-country stars like Glen Campbell and Jeanie C. Riley. He visits studios and record labels and quotes dollar figures which, even adjusted for inflation, are impressive in chronicling an industry just going supernova. There is a side trip out to Bakersfield, California, to speak with Buck Owens and investigate that city's claim to be Nashville West.
Also there is a look into music's future. Hemphill chooses as a case in point Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline album, which had just been released, and interviews Dylan and Johnny Cash on their collaboration. Also, at this pivotal moment, Glen Campbell has just been offered his own network tv show, and Buck Owens has been approached about something called Hee Haw. Ryman Auditorium is described as "ugly," and Opryland USA is on the drawing board.
Cash has a lot of good lines in this book--it's a great tribute to him. He tells of a conversation between Cash and Merle Haggard:
Haggard: The first time I ever saw you perform, it was at San Quentin. Cash: I don't remember you being on that show, Merle. Haggard: I was in the audience, Johnny.
Later, Hemphill shares a backstage moment with Johnny and June:
"In a playful mood, he began to sing softly to "I Walk the Line," words he had made up that afternoon before a break in taping at the Opry House [Ryman]. 'I keep my pants up with a piece of twine...' 'John!' his wife gasped. 'Yes, love,' Cash said, getting up and strolling out of the coffee shop, a little-boy grin on his face. 'Just say you're mine, and pull the twine.'"
It must be remembered that this book was written 45 years ago, against a background of tremendous social upheaval--the Vietnam War, the hippie culture, and forced integration--and the author does exhibit a measure of racism. He uses the n-word when quoting his interviewees. He acknowledges that Charley Pride is pretty much the only African American in country music. This is a little startling, but it is an accurate portrayal of people's attitudes at that time.
I do take issue with the author's assertion that country music is the only true American music--I think blues and jazz have a much stronger claim. In fact, according to Hemphill, some of the first country music ("hillbilly") recordings were done on the Okeh label, which specialized in "race" music. But people are free to draw their own conclusions.
"The Nashville Sound" is worth checking out, as a time capsule, as a good piece of journalism. The best way to experience it is by supplementing your reading with YouTube videos of everything from the Carter Family singing "Wildwood Flower" to Cash and Dylan's duet on "Girl from the North Country."
It would also be interesting to read a companion volume that examines the cutthroat country and Christian music business industry that Nashville has become since 1970.
Thanks to Netgalley for furnishing me with a review copy of this book.
It's good if people enjoy this, I guess. I was just so put off by the factual errors that I also noticed how badly it is written. In the alternative TIt's good if people enjoy this, I guess. I was just so put off by the factual errors that I also noticed how badly it is written. In the alternative Tennessee that is the setting for this book, dogwoods bloom in June and tulips in July. The Country Music Marathon, normally run in April, is held in October. Nashvillians go to Pigeon Forge, some 4-5 hrs away, just to hang out at Dollywood for the evening. It is possible for a character to view the Great Smoky Mountains, 150 miles east of Nashville, during a half marathon, but still get taken to the ER at Vanderbilt hospital. I'm not sure Vanderbilt, a major research hospital and trauma center, even has an ER for minor injuries.
And somehow, even though these are working class people, the heroine living in a trailer park, not one but two minor characters have brothers who play in the NFL, and another is a scout for the Titans organization. What are the odds?
The plot and characters are fairly routine-- girl meets hot guy while training for a marathon she hopes to run in memory of her boyfriend's recent death. Guess what happens....more
I am so glad to know that Erica Jong still has something to say to me. This book is probably not for everyone, but it will speak to midlife women. I hI am so glad to know that Erica Jong still has something to say to me. This book is probably not for everyone, but it will speak to midlife women. I highlighted more lines in this book than probably anything I've read this year.
Vanessa Wonderman, a "happily married" actress turning 60, is trying to cope with her parents' end-of-life issues and the death of a beloved dog-- (On the bone-shaped silver tag we purchased for her collar we inscribed: “I take care of Vanessa and Asher. ‘Pray tell me sir, whose dog are you?’”) And then her husband collapses with an aneurysm.
The concept of the 'zipless f***' first introduced in Fear of Flying has become a website, zipless.com; and Isadora Wing, still flitting around Manhattan, is full of sage advice but is regretting she ever invented the term. Vanessa is still looking for enlightenment, sometimes through anonymous sexual experiences facilitated by technology.
Chapters begin with a lovely assortment of quotes drawn from literary and religious texts, like this one: "Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing; Let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder, “How filled with awe is this place and we did not know it!”
This is a book for the open-minded person, as Vanessa draws wisdom from a patchwork of belief systems, but it works for her. It worked for me. Here's another one: What is magic but the deep intent to change?”
Here is how she says goodbye to her mother: “Thank you for the books, the plays, the music, the poetry, the movies. Thank you for Gershwin and Mozart and Cole Porter and Beethoven. Thank you for Duke Ellington, Gilbert and Sullivan, Mitropoulos, and Bernstein. Thank you for Yeats and Dickinson and Millay. Thank you for Leonardo and Michelangelo and Hogarth and Vigée Le Brun. Thank you for stuffing our heads full of your amazing knowledge of everything.” And I kiss the air as I have kissed her before."
Thank you to Netgalley for providing an advance review copy. Now I will go back and revisit Fear of Flying. ...more
**spoiler alert** I can't even. Just read what other people have written about this book. I've read probably 100 YA books this year, and this is the b**spoiler alert** I can't even. Just read what other people have written about this book. I've read probably 100 YA books this year, and this is the best. Nelson's prose is astonishing. It's not just words but images, emotions, electricity. By spring I'm always jaded and ticking off this year's tropes--wacky artsy grandmother, dressmaking, twins, special school for talented kids, mother dies, etc., but this one completely transcends. I will come back to this book. When former teens ask what's so great about YA lit, I will hand them this.
I see from another reviewer that there's a movie option and talk of Javier Bardem playing Guillermo. Perfect. And with any luck Shailene Woodley will be too busy with the Divergent sequels to play Jude. ...more
Slick, fun, appealing, amoral, cinematic heist story. I hope it is made into a movie, and I hope the girl who played Rue in The Hunger Games is cast aSlick, fun, appealing, amoral, cinematic heist story. I hope it is made into a movie, and I hope the girl who played Rue in The Hunger Games is cast as Izzy. ...more
I bought this book for my school library because I have had students researching this topic, and with its interesting layout and photos, it seemed likI bought this book for my school library because I have had students researching this topic, and with its interesting layout and photos, it seemed like a book that would be good to read as well as informative.
And it is. The author makes a compelling story out of the history of football injuries going back more than 100 years, and she does a good job of summarizing case studies and research on brain trauma. Even though the book would appeal to middle school students, it is substantial enough to provide information for high school research.
However, this book is badly in need of a copy editor. The author seems to struggle mightily with subject/verb and pronoun/antecedent agreement, and there are numerous other typos and misspellings that are enough to distract from the quality of the work. Without the lively photo spreads, the text alone would be a B- essay in high school English class.
Another observation I would make is that the photos are almost exclusively of white players and their families. Here in the South, especially, that is not representative of what we see on the field in high school, college, or professional football.
Other than that, this book wins at bringing an important and timely subject to its most important audience--teens....more
I didn't want to like this book. I expected a disease-of-the-week weeper, but this is so--positive! It reads like a YA novel about overcoming bullyingI didn't want to like this book. I expected a disease-of-the-week weeper, but this is so--positive! It reads like a YA novel about overcoming bullying spectacularly. The difference, however, is what makes this book so astonishingly good. Most YA books are not written by actual teens, but by people who are either slightly, or sometimes much, much older. People who are in a position to know that it does get better. It's entirely possible that former teens don't quite get it right. Even Josh Sundquist's recent "We Should Hang Out Sometime" was mildly criticized for having been written by a 25-year old.
So yay for Paige! I'm going to try to make all the adults at my school read this book, and quite a few of the students, too. ...more
It was fun to think about what a huge part of culture this movie has become, and inspiring to know that its goodness never went out of style. I've reaIt was fun to think about what a huge part of culture this movie has become, and inspiring to know that its goodness never went out of style. I've read Maria's and Agathe's memoirs and maybe some others (Richard Rodgers' wife), and have seen the movie countless times, just like everyone my age, I guess. Its appeal never fades.
First of all I enjoyed thinking about how much the tweaks to the movie script improved upon the stage production. This book explains each production decision in a way that makes a fun read. I've seen a couple of recent performances of the stage musical, with the additional songs by the Baroness and without "I Have Confidence," and in the stage version you feel the shadow of Nazi collaboration much more strongly. It's in the movie, too, but it's subtle. I was a grownup before I realized the butler was a Nazi in the movie.
Since we've all seen the movie and its credits umpteen times, we're going, "Robert Wise turned it down and they signed William Wyler to direct? No!" And then it is interesting to see how this bit of history played out.
It's also enjoyable to think about the mid-60s as a time of radical change and how SM was so solidly old-fashioned in the era of Bonnie and Clyde or Hair. Mad Men fans will appreciate this examination of 60s pop culture. I hadn't realized how snide the New York critics were in almost universally loathing this movie. It made me realize that I never liked or trusted Pauline Kael's reviews anyway.
But when the movie first came out, I was 6 years old and my brother 4 and we were completely captivated. As the book points out, it had a limited engagement in only a few theaters, and we went all the way to Memphis to see it at a beautiful, modern single-screen theater in Eastgate that was roughly where the Fresh Market is today. We were scrubbed and dressed as if for church, and were cautioned to be on our best behavior, as there was some question in my dad's mind as to whether we were old enough to sit through a 3-hour movie. No worries there. We left the theater enchanted, twirling and singing.
I saw it again in the theater when I was at the dreadful age of about 14 when I was too cool for dumb musicals, or so I thought. But even at the nadir of my teenage surliness, the movie got to me and I loved it. Years later my kids watched it on VHS endlessly, mostly rewinding the "Lonely Goatherd" puppet sequence over and over.
Now the movie will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2015. This is a good time to take a look at the movie and tell its story (and keep an eye out for an anniversary Blu Ray edition). What I took away from the book is the sense of goodness and family that developed during production. The movie, a huge gamble, almost single-handedly saved Fox Studios from bankruptcy. The actors who played the children in the movie became lifelong friends. Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer have earned the artistic recognition they deserve. So have most all the crew. The Von Trapp family have learned to live with their legacy. The movie, still breathtaking in 70mm, has become a singalong favorite to this day. "Do Re Mi" started the flashmob phenomenon.
Santopietro does a good job of placing the musical in the context of 20th- and 21st century culture, omitting little, with one exception. In the chapter "Six Characters in Search of a Director" he quotes legendary director Billy Wilder as having said, "No musical with swastikas in it will ever be a success." Santopietro goes on to point out that not only was SM hugely successful, but so was Cabaret, both on stage and film. I would also have mentioned The Producers, which, interestingly, was made in 1967, while SM was still running in theaters, and remained nothing more than a quirky little cult film for decades until Mel Brooks upcycled it into a hit musical for another generation. I mean, when you hear the words "musical with swastikas," who doesn't think of "Springtime for Hitler" and Brooks's declaration that the way to defeat the Nazis once and for all was to make fun of them?
Anyway, the author doesn't go there, and he could have. But he goes into much enjoyable territory, and I am sure that the film's legions of fans will want to read this uplifting tribute to a great, great film. I am thankful to have received an advance copy of the book from Netgalley. I would recommend this book to--, well, pretty much anyone.