Apr 292011
 

Whoa. Six weeks now we’ve been playing. Hope you’re having fun and meeting new people — remember to invite your friends along!

By now, you oughta know the drill. In case you don’t, here are the rules:

1. Leave a comment here, on this post. Say hello to me, tell me what you’re reading, what song you’re jamming to, which is your favorite Easter candy… You pick, just say SOMEthing! Leave your link (I can’t get Comment Luv to work regularly) to your blog.

2. Go visit the blog link in the comment above you. Tell them “I’m from West of Mars” and hopefully something nice about their post.

3. When three people have left a comment since your last one, you may play again. If no one’s commented for two hours, you may play again. This is the ONLY time you may visit someone other than the person above you.

4. If you’re new here, your comment will go into moderation. I’m going to try to keep on top of that, but do check back to make sure no one missed you. If you were skipped, leave another comment — even if you break the three-person rule.

5. Be nice. Have fun. Make new friends — that’s what this is all about. And, of course, I operate on the Commutative Principle of Friendships, whereby any friend of yours is a friend of mine. Which means anyone and everyone is welcome to play.

6. Game ends Sunday night, even if I post something again in the meantime. I’m overdue for some fiction, I know.

 Posted by at 11:24 am
Apr 282011
 

If you’re thinking I’m on a tear of reading great stuff, you’re right. A scant ten days ago, I was raving about Joanne Rendell’s third novel, Out of the Shadows.

And now, it’s time to rave about Chris Bohjalian’s 2008 release, Skeletons at the Feast.

Wow. Just… wow.

Okay, let me try to be coherent here. It’s not easy.

This is a Holocaust book, no matter how much we want it to not be. That’s because we have one character — and this isn’t a spoiler; you guys know me too well to think I’d spoil a read for you — who jumps out of one of those cattle cars the Germans used in to transport the Jews to the concentration camps. And it’s also because we have another secondary character who is a prisoner.

But the heart of this book is what makes it. The heart is a young woman named Anna. Raised in Prussia on a sugar beet farm, she’s as close to gentry as it gets. But she and her family are on the run; the Russians are coming, and the Russians (sigh) aren’t nice people. Atrocities abound when Ivan gets near. It’s sad. It’s scary.

Anna’s family has a secret: a Scottish POW. They’re hoping he’ll come in handy when they get to the West and find the British and American troops.

Anna and the POW have another secret. Bet you can guess what.

What makes this book so fascinating is the tale — based on true events — of their flight and the hardships THEY have to endure. Think about it. When we talk about WWII, we focus on the Jews and what happened to them. It’s hard not to. Six million people is an awfully huge number.

But lately, I’ve been reading books that focus on more than the Jews. Jenna Blum’s Those Who Save Us is one of them. Her character named Anna (and no, we’re not going there… I’m quite sure Anna was a very common name) was trying to keep herself and her daughter alive in a time of uncertainty and deprivation.

To be honest, I like that. I like what our escaped Jew does. I like how the woman prisoner survives. And I love this Anna. She’s got a heart and a worldview that Blum’s Anna lacked. Not because Blum’s Anna wasn’t a good character. Oh, my, is that Anna a phenomenal woman.

It’s that Bohjalian’s Anna manages to rise above. Of course, she has less to rise above than Blum’s character did. It’s not even fair to compare the two women.

Go read both books. Not back to back; that much Holocaust will kill anyone.

Eew. Pun NOT intended. Yikes. Sorry about that.

***
(My book club told me Tuesday night that Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife is another. I haven’t read it yet. Sounds like I need to.)

 Posted by at 6:42 am
Apr 262011
 

A year or so ago, my book club finally read Those Who Save Us, Jenna Blum’s debut novel. I liked it quite a bit; didn’t love it, but most of my book club did. (What held me back? Personal shit. Don’t ask. I won’t answer.)

Somehow, I was snoozing when Jenna put out her second book, The Stormchasers.
The Stormchasers

This is a good thing, because in the meantime, we’ve chatted via Twitter quite a bit. She’s exposing me to a brand new world: that of the real, actual, honest-to-goodness stormchasers.

This is also a good thing because my son and I got sucked into last season’s Stormchasers TV show on Discovery Network. I’m now following series star Reed Timmer on Twitter (and, okay, Facebook) and am learning LOTS about weather. It’s actually quite fascinating. And it definitely has given me a new, better approach to the power and beauty of thunderstorms. I’d love to go chase storms with people as smart as Reed and his gang.

You see how all of this has come together into a perfect storm of sorts.

So… with the news that The Stormchasers, that book Jenna wrote that somehow slipped under my radar, is coming out TODAY in paperback, I asked if she wanted to drop in and tell us what song makes her think of this new gem of a book. (Really, I am DYING to read it!)

Here’s what she said:

That’s a tough one in a way, because the book has a whole soundtrack. Its twin hero/ heroine come of age in the 80s, which as far as I’m concerned is a Golden Age of music (this is coming from someone whose hair on just one side of her face used to be bigger than her whole head). So while I was writing the novel, I’d listen to its soundtrack on my iPod during my evening walks (sometimes, I’m afraid, conducting).

The STORMCHASERS soundtrack is available on my blog.

If I had to choose just one, I’d say it’s Copland’s Appalachian Spring, the allegro movement. It’s bold and beautiful and strange, with some majestic crashing discordancy that to me is reminiscent of Charles Hallingdahl’s manic episodes, followed by a tender coda that reminds me of his sister, Karena. THE STORMCHASERS is a quintessentially American book, and the Copland piece sums up everything I love about the wild beauty of this country, its people and their bravery in the face of their struggles, and its weather.

(And, hey, this YouTube video that I linked to? It was posted by someone named playingmusiconmars. I TOLD you this was a perfect storm!)

The Stormchasers. Jenna Blum’s follow-up to her monster hit, Those Who Save Us. Available today.

 Posted by at 6:22 am
Apr 252011
 

I hope you’ve been wondering why I’ve been silent about a rock and roll collection of short stories winning literature’s biggest prize, the Pulitzer. The book I’m talking about is A Visit From the Goon Squad, written by Jennifer Egan.

I mean, hello? What could be better exposure for the genre than the Pulitzer Prize? Right there, isn’t that enough? Doesn’t that give the genre the credibility I’ve long been seeking for it?

Yes and no.

Yes because hello? Here’s a book about rock and roll that’s getting huge exposure and selling like mad. As I’m typing this, it’s the number one seller at Powells.com, and I’m sure it’s number one at Amazon, B&N, and every indie store on the planet. Winning the Pulitzer tends to raise a book’s profile and make people think they want to read it. You can call them bandwagon jumpers if you’d like. I call them people in search of something good to read. (I just wish they’d experiment a little more!)

No because this book isn’t identified as a piece of rock and roll fiction. It’s identified as brilliant, interlocked short stories that just happen to be about an aging record exec.

If you follow my Rocks ‘n Reads blog, you know what I thought of Good Squad.

What you may not know is what I thought of Ms. Egan’s dismissive comments about chick lit. Reading it for myself, I don’t think it’s so terrible. She’s encouraging women to shoot high. There’s nothing wrong with that. And frankly, I don’t see her cutting down “that Harvard student” for plagiarizing chick lit so much as plagiarizing BAD fiction. (It’s the last paragraph on the page. Go read it.) Maybe the authors “that Harvard student” ripped off are the best in the genre. I don’t know. I don’t overly care for a lot of chick lit, myself — although I do keep trying. The chick lit books I’ve read that I’ve liked are books that I’ve REALLY REALLY liked. For me, there’s not a lot of middle ground.

So I can’t totally vilify her. I CAN wish she’d won an award for a book that didn’t bore me into deleting it off my iPod. (It was a library book, thank goodness!). I CAN wish the profile of rock and roll fiction (or maybe we should rename the genre Music Fiction, since there’s nothing rock and roll about some of the books I’ve identified as great reads) was higher, so that Ms. Egan had been recognized for not only what some considered to be a great book, but a great ROCK AND ROLL book.

Keep reading, folks. We’ll get to the point where people recognize the brilliance in the Rock Books genre. One day.

 Posted by at 6:50 am
Apr 222011
 

Yep, it’s the weekend. Easter weekend for you who celebrate (as you noticed from my last post, I do not). I wish you all many many chocolate bunnies, with ears just waiting to be bit off.

It’s spring break here, which means kids are underfoot along with the foster cat. I’ve been toying with the idea of a post about Jennifer Egan’s Visit from the Goon Squad winning the Pulitzer; it IS a rock and roll book, after all. I just need time to write it.

And it’s the NHL playoffs! You know I’m glued to the TV… editing some new stuff for you. I hope Mannequin set the bar high for you.

By now, you oughta know the drill. In case you don’t, here are the rules:

1. Leave a comment here, on this post. Say hello to me, tell me what you’re reading, what song you’re jamming to, which is your favorite Easter candy… You pick, just say SOMEthing! Leave your link (I can’t get Comment Luv to work regularly) to your blog.

2. Go visit the blog link in the comment above you. Tell them “I’m from West of Mars” and hopefully something nice about their post.

3. When three people have left a comment since your last one, you may play again. If no one’s commented for two hours, you may play again. This is the ONLY time you may visit someone other than the person above you.

4. If you’re new here, your comment will go into moderation. I’m going to try to keep on top of that, but do check back to make sure no one missed you. If you were skipped, leave another comment — even if you break the three-person rule.

5. Be nice. Have fun. Make new friends — that’s what this is all about. And, of course, I operate on the Commutative Principle of Friendships, whereby any friend of yours is a friend of mine. Which means anyone and everyone is welcome to play.

6. Game ends Sunday night.

 Posted by at 7:59 am