She has read too many books and they have addled her brain…

Archive for January, 2011

Get back to where you once belonged: CBR III Review #3

Az’s CBR-III Review #3: High School Confidential by Jeremy Iversen

The premise of this book is simple: Then 24-year-old Jeremy Iverson posed as a high school senior at Mirador High in Southern California. He did everything a senior does; he even graduated. I keep reading that the book is an exposé but I don’t find anything shocking or controversial in it. Or anything I wasn’t aware of already. I don’t know if this is because I have actually taught high school myself or because fictional depictions of high school in movies and TV are so overly dramatic and scripted to shock, that a so-called every day account of the goings on in an actual high school is rendered insipid.

Another aspect of the book that was off-putting was the attitude of the author. He is very self-congratulatory and smug. I’m not surprised he fit in perfectly within the high school student body since he comes across as self-centered and immature. I also doubt his accuracy as I believe he took from his experience what he found to be most shocking or controversial. I get that. The man, after all, has a book to sell. But in doing so, I think he compromises what the book claims he set out to do: get an accurate portrayal of every day life in high.

The book fails on two levels: it is false advertising – this is not an every day high school experience. But it isn’t that shocking either. It’s a good read for what it is: I’ll give it that. (It’s telling that what I found most amusing was Mr. Iversen’s brief description of that dreadful Carpathian vampire series by Christine Feehan. Why do people recommend this series to me with high praise over and over? Yes, I like vampire smut but I couldn’t even get through the 1st book of this series. Sorry – I digress.)  But in the end, this book wasn’t what I was looking for when I picked it up. I mean, I wasn’t expecting a morality tale like Go Ask Alice, a fantasy like Sweet Valley High or even an inspirational tale like Stand by Me. But neither was I expecting, say, The OC lite. I guess if I want a more insightful, realistic account of what goes on in high school, I should do what I’ve been doing so far: keeping the lines of communication open with my offspring. Maybe what they tell me isn’t entirely accurate, but it is engaging and interesting.

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Youve got to hide your love away: CBR-III Review #2

Az’s CBR-III Review #2: Love and Other Natural Disasters by Holly Shumas

The basis of this story is a thought-provoking question: Is a married man guilty of cheating after opening his heart to another woman via phone calls and emails for a year? It’s a great question: Exactly what constitutes betrayal? Does it have to be physical? Of course it’s okay for your partner to have friends of the opposite sex. If there is no physical contact, when does that friendship turn into something more?

On Thanksgiving, Eve is eight months pregnant with her second child. Her friends and family are over to celebrate the holiday. In the middle of dinner, she overhears her husband, Jon, talking on the phone in hushed, intimate tones. She discovers that he has been seeing another woman for over a year. The relationship isn’t physical, but emotional, conducted via emails and phone calls, although there is a sexual element to it.  Jon confesses that they did meet once, but he refused to sleep with Lainey, the other woman. Even so, Eve feels betrayed, and asks Jon to leave. She begins questioning her entire life, with thoughts of Jon’s affair tormenting her constantly especially after she snoops around and reads his emails – both the past ones to Lainey as well as current ones to other friends. She doesn’t like what she finds out, especially in terms of how she perceives Jon sees her. As well, she questions the motives for every single gesture and feeling that Jon has ever displayed towards her. She doubts that he ever really loved her at all. This is compounded by feelings left over from Eve’s difficult childhood.

This was a difficult read, not only because of the subject matter but also because, for me, Eve was a difficult character to like. My reactions to Jon’s betrayal and Eve’s response ran the gamut from thinking that her anger and bitterness were absolutely justified, to feeling that she was being cruel and petty as she consistently lashed out at Jon no matter what he did to try to make things right. It’s pretty clear that there were underlying issues in Jon and Eve’s marriage that led to the betrayal. Holly Shumas is a licensed marriage and family therapist and she makes it very clear about how there’s no use in trying to tackle the betrayal issue if all other problems aren’t faced as well. And that’s where I thought Eve became less sympathetic: she persisted in placing the blame solely on Jon even after she herself begins dating and sleeps with another man. She even feels that his anger when finding out she has been reading his emails isn’t completely justified. Eventually, she does realize that the conflict isn’t as one-sided as she thought it was. Yes, Jon was at fault. But so was she. This opens the door for them to go to counseling together and begin to reconcile. However, I did enjoy the supporting cast of characters, in particular Eve’s brother Charlie, who moves in with Eve to help with the kids and ends up having to face his own issues.

I actually put down the book I was originally planning to review and picked up Love and Other Natural Disasters instead. The story caught my attention because I feel it addresses a very timely issue: in this age of emails, and social networks it can be so easy to develop a certain amount of intimacy without any actual physical contact between people. It puts another perspective on what actually constitutes cheating, and that, in some cases, emotional attachments can be much more damaging than sexual indiscretions. Trust me, you will be thinking about this issue long after you put the book down. In the end, this novel is about marriage and self-awareness. It is also about taking the people who we love for granted and making assumptions that we know what it is that they are thinking and feeling as well as what they want from us and from life. But most of all, this book is about making the decision to love despite the difficulties that life may bring.

In my life I love you more: CBR-III Review #1

Az’s CBR-III Review #1: Antigua Vida Mía (Antigua and my Life Before) by Marcela Serrano

I’ve always loved a good love story. Not necessarily romantic love, love between a couple; but the kind of relationship that enriches people’s lives, that makes them better versions of themselves. This is one of those stories.

Josefa Ferrer is an internationally renowned Chilean singer/songwriter. She is this tightly wound knot of neuroses that run the gamut from crippling stage fright to serious body image and food issues. Violeta Dasinski is Josefa’s closest friend since they bonded as schoolgirls over both of them being outsiders due to their social station. She is Josefa’s polar opposite in that she takes life as it comes and generally has a more positive outlook.  Antigua Vida Mía is the story of their friendship told by Josefa after Violeta kills her husband. Violeta is eventually acquitted of the crime and proceeds to move to Antigua and start her life over.

The story is told in medias res, that is, it begins in the middle, on the night Violeta shoots and kills her husband Eduardo who is a revered novelist. Josefa goes to Violeta’s house to retrieve the latter’s journals and from there we go back to their childhood and move forward. Both have led tumultuous lives: Josefa was left a widow with two small children at a young age and subsequently participated in a singing contest which led to her meeting her husband Andres who was married at the time and left his wife for her. Violeta has been marked by her mother’s abandoning her after discovering that her father was cheating. The mother falls in love with a Guatemalan guerrilla and follows him to Antigua, where they both die. Violeta then marries her first husband, who is an artist and moves to Europe with him. Upon their divorce, she moves back to Chile with their daughter Jacinta where she eventually meets and marries Eduardo. Through the twists and turns of their lives, their friendship is the one constant.

As the story progresses we begin to see that everything is not what it seems. On the outside, Josefa has always seemed to be the more successful one, with her singing career, the perfect husband – Andres and two lovely children: Borja and Celeste. But all is not well in Paradise: Josefa fears that Andres is cheating on her and Celeste has an eating disorder.  Worse, she has lost her inspiration and cannot make music. It seems that this unraveling of her life can be traced to when Violeta left the country.

Violeta, meanwhile, has come into her own. She discovered Antigua when she traveled to Mexico on her own to get away from Eduardo who was an alcoholic and had become abusive. There, she met Bob, an American journalist who takes her to Guatemala to find out about her mother and with whom she had an affair. After returning to Chile, she discovered she was pregnant. Eduardo became even more abusive after that because he knew the baby wasn’t his as he had had a vasectomy years before. Violeta didn’t know about it because when they married, he had made it clear she wanted more children so Eduardo lied. Eventually, this led to his murder as his anger over her infidelity triggered a fight during which he threatened to rape Violeta’ daughter Jacinta.

After being acquitted, Violeta leaves Chile for good and settles down in Antigua with her daughter and with Bob. She has their child, a boy named Gabriel. She also takes up weaving and makes wonderful tapestries. When Josefa feels she can take no more of her life she goes to Antigua to visit Violeta. There, she has an awakening of sorts inspired not only by the city of Antigua, but also by Javier, a journalist friend of Violeta and Bob. This eventually leads to her emotional stability and gives her fresh inspiration to make music again.

I realize that the story reads much like a telenovela but there is so much more to it than that. Both Chilean and Guatemalan history and traditions play an important role. And it is as much about both Violeta and Josefa finding their own space – a room of their own, as it were – where they can fully develop as women and as artists as it is about their friendship. The best part of the story, though, is the love between the two women which sustains and comforts them and which makes it possible for them to weather the many storms they encounter throughout their lives. Anyone lucky enough to have this kind of relationship in his or her life should treasure it because it is a rare and wonderful thing.

e·piph·a·ny  

I was just watching the beginning of The Wolfman with my son. It’s very… atmospheric, yes? It all looks very dank and foggy. And the manor is huge and barely illuminated and dusty. The village is bleak…  And my first thought is, “Holy crap the stench must be unbearable”. Not “Oh the moors and the mists, how romantic!” It’s like when I reread Wuthering Heights – which I hadn’t touched since my teens – and rather than be carried away by this love story for the ages I was majorly irked at these co-dependent morons. But more on that later…