Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review: Cruel Crazy Beautiful World

Cruel Crazy Beautiful World takes place in both Zimbabwe and South Africa. Troy Blacklaws writes about two different characters by using third person during one chapter while writing about Jabulani, a Zimbabwean man trying to make it into South Africa, and then switching to first person in the next chapter while writing about Jerusalem (Jero), a young man, half Muslim/half Jewish, in South Africa. Blacklaws continues this back and forth between chapters throughout the novel, exposing the harsh conditions of living in post-apartheid South Africa.

Jabulani is trying to run from Zimbabwe to South Africa because his family is poor. He hopes to make it to South Africa so he can find a job and relocate his family. However, traveling from Zimbabwe to South Africa can be dangerous because illegal marijuana growers hunt for male refugees to enslave and females to force into sex slaves. Jabulani’s journey to South Africa soon becomes a nightmare that includes slavery, murder, and revenge. Eventually, Jabulani’s story converges with Jero’s story in South Africa.

Jero, on the other hand, struggles with racism between whites and blacks in South Africa, but also between blacks from different African countries. His father, Zero, tasks Jero to sell small animal trinkets while Zero acts as vigilante across the country, exposing those who illegally eat monkeys, sell and rape women, and enslave others. Jero’s mother is an empty shell, lost in memories of her daughter, who was kidnapped, raped, and killed years prior. As Jero falls in love with a white English girl living in Hermanus, he must deal with the racism in his country, the disappointment his father feels for him, and an absent mother. Finally, he must learn that there is good in South Africa, and there is something to live for.

While there was much to enjoy in the story-line of this novel, there were a few issues I had with the writing. Blacklaws regularly uses African terms and exposes them with the use of italics. However, they are never truly defined. Normally, in these circumstances, one would expect to gain understanding through future text, but oftentimes enlightenment did not come. I found myself distracted by the colloquial language because I had to continually look words up, which interrupted the story. In addition, Blacklaws often uses poetic language while writing. In other occasions, I might find this tactic entertaining. Nevertheless, I found his habitual use of alliteration exhausting and elementary at times. For example, “Poor tiddly tortoise, tuts Phoenix.” I had a difficult time understanding if this statement is supposed to understate the situation at the time or to blatantly make me laugh. Finally, occasionally, I felt like Blacklaws gave up on trying to find descriptive words for things he was trying to describe. “Jaggy-tooth things” is hardly a way to describe what a character is seeing.

The Verdict

Library Bag: Even though I was often disappointed with the writing style, I felt the story-line was engaging and worth reading. Check it out at the library and read it.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday @ the Forums

April is here and we're bringing in spring with Brave New World along with an optional read of any of the works of William Shakespeare. Here's what else is going on in the forums.

San Francisco Meet & Greet and companion Google Hangout - Just a reminder that we're going to be in SF on Saturday, April 6th from 3:45-5pm at the Downtown branch of the SF public library. More details can be found her and make sure you R.S.V.P whether you'll be in person or via Google Hangout.

Fairy Tales - Not a lot of info on the forums, but check out Thisseas's thread to find out more.

Gadfly - Our Shelftator Angie is organizing an optional read in July for the book The Year of the Gadfly. The more who participate the better. 

Historical Fiction Help - After reading Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald this week, it got me wondering about other historical fiction written with famous authors as the main characters. I'm trying to get a list started if anyone can help with some titles. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler is a peek into the world of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, a glimpse into a relationship that was flawed, yet fascinating. 

The book is from Zelda's perspective and begins right before she meets Scott in Montgomery, Alabama at a country club dance. The book follows them from their wedding at St Patrick's to their traipsing across the US and Europe. It also explores the relationships they had with other celebrities of the time, including Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, and takes a stark look at their tumultuous marriage, ending with Scott's death from a heart attack. 

I am absolutely positively sure there are probably some inaccuracies in the book. I would worry about them more if this was presented as a nonfiction. However, as a historical fiction, I took any suppositions in stride and enjoyed it for its engaging characters and for the chance to see what life could have been like for the Fitzgeralds.

I've always claimed to love the Roaring Twenties, and yet, the only book I've read about the decade has been The Great Gatsby. This book inspired me to pick up Tender is the Night as well as The Beautiful and the Damned* and read a nonfiction called Flapper.  The time period was our nation's teen years: staying out late, drinking illegally and driving fast. Fowler captured this wonderfully. Zelda and Scott lived on money they didn't have and set a standard which makes most people connect them immediately to the time period.

Fowler says in the afterword there is often a Team Scott and a Team Zelda due to individuals believing one spouse ruined the other's life and visa versa. I tried really hard not to pick a team, but Zelda's plight in Z was hard not to sympathize with. I think, though, they were both troubled individuals so in love with the idea of being in love they became as tragic as the characters Scott portrayed in his stories. 

The Verdict
Bookshelf: The story was engaging, and I kept turning the page to see what shenanigans they would get into next. It piqued my interest to read more of Scott's work and hunt down a copy of Zelda's book, Save Me the Waltz

*Angie and I are planning an April buddy read of Tender is the Night and The Beautiful and the Damned and we'll share our experience toward the end of the month. Pick your copies and join us! Optional are Flapper and The Great Gatsby as well. Let me know what other Roaring Twenties books I can try.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Book Association: A Brave New World - Dystopian

April's book is Brave New World so for our first Book Association, we're going pretty blatant with Dystopian Classics.

1984 - I'm pretty sure I'm not allowed to even have a list regarding dystopias without this book on it. Read it. Big Brother is watching.

Fahrenheit 451 - Same goes here. A world where firemen actually set books on fire, this one chills to the bones for all bibliophiles.  

The Handmaid's Tale - This dystopian narrative centers around a society where the birth rate has plummeted and there is a class of women "assigned" to households in hope that they can be impregnated by the head of the household. It is shocking, yet convincing, at the same time. 

A Clockwork Orange - Even if you haven't read this one, you probably have seen the movie or at least a clip or two to be able to say this book is nothing short of complex. Be warned, there is some pretty graphic violence. 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? A very valid question and this modern classic has plenty of them. Can androids acquire human traits? Do mechanical chickens taste of chicken? Ok, it might not ask that last one, but still a must have on any dystopian list.

There are lots more so I know I left some out. What are some of your favorite dystopian classics?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Meet-a-Tator Tuesday: Karena

We've come to an end with our Meet-a-Tator Tuesdays series. We'll round out our series with Karena, the second part of our Booktator equation (even though she really hates math). Karena manages the day-to-day happenings on the blog and the Goodreads forum, as well as cohosts the podcast and manages our online community.


Title: Booktator, Co-founder, Podcast host, Community Manager

Fave books/authors/genre (any combination):  Urban fantasy, historical fiction, 
women’s history, JD Robb, Kelley Armstrong, Kim Harrison, Philippa Gregory, Edgar Allan Poe, Kevin Hearne, Oscar Wilde and the play A Midsummer Night's Dream

Tell us about yourself: I am a writer, editor, podcaster, community manager, traveller, part time gamer, mom, wife. I live in Santa Cruz, California and I love the vibe of the city. I like movies that suck you in and good food.

Classic book that impacted my life: Tough one. The Great Gatsby or Night.

In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro.

(Everywhere I have sought peace and not found it, except in a corner with a book.)

― Thomas à Kempis

Twitter/etc: @KarenaFagan or friend me on Goodreads or Google+.

Review: The Priest, the Witch, and the Poltergeist

In her book, The Priest, the Witch, and the Poltergeist, Barbara Wade Rose writes of a true incident that takes place in the small town of Cideville, France during the 1850's and weaves it into a narrative. A local witch, named Thorel Felix, puts a hex on two young students who reside with a priest named Father Jean Lariat. This hex is an act of retaliation against the priest who recently had a hand in imprisoning the leader of Felix's coven. After this, a poltergeist takes hold of the Lariat household. There were many failed attempts and experiments to rid his small country home of the poltergeist, including an exorcism.  

The beginning of almost every chapter begins with a diary entry of Robert de Saint Martin, a seigneur and good friend to Lariat who attempts to help him expel the poltergeist. These entries had the feel of the diary narrative from Bram Stoker's Dracula. Diary entries in horror novels can make the story more chilling because the reader is going through the journey with the character, and neither knows what is going to occur next.  

Then the novel takes a surprising turn, and becomes almost like a legal drama with some courtroom action. Felix sues Father Lariat for assault and slander. Unlike any of the witch trials recorded in history, this case is one of the few, if not the only one, where the witch was the plaintiff rather than the defendant, and he certainly has the right to sue.  

One of the aspects I most enjoyed of the novel was watching the character development unfold. Upon first meeting Felix, he is truly a villain, while the priest and the two boys are his God-fearing victims. Yet as the novel progresses, many of Lariat's character flaws and ill intentions are revealed, and I lost much of the sympathy for him I initially felt. As for Felix, I did not see him as such a wicked character as the story moves forward; however, he didn't become a glorified entity either. I felt some sympathy for Felix when Lariat physically attacked him and I believed that he had the right to sue. Still, he remained a self proclaimed witch who did in fact put a hex on two young boys, so he did not become an innocent figure by the end of the novel. The characters are not black or white, good or bad, nor devil or saint. In fact, ultimately, you see how the priest and his students were more the victims of themselves than any hex a witch could have conjured. 

The Verdict

Library Bag: Although I do not think it will be the next great contemporary classic, I do think it was an entertaining story featuring an obscure event in history.

*Mrs. Hoffman was provided with a free copy of the book from NetGalley.*

Monday, April 1, 2013

Ep #9 Sherlock Holmes is my Homie!

Ep #9 Sherlock Holmes is My Homie!

On this episode the Tators announce their first author interview with Kevin Smokler for the mid May episode who will be on to talk about his book Practical Classics. The details for the San Francisco trip on April 6th are also finalized. Jared shares his love for, Jeane talks about some bad book covers and they speculate the future of Goodreads with the acquisition. After "Where's my bookmark?" the Tators get into the discussion of March's book pick which was reader's choice of any Sherlock Holmes novels. 

Where's my bookmark?

  • Flapper by Joshua Zeitz, 
  • Blood Between Queens by Barbara Kyle, 
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy 
  • Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayd Rand
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Tiger's Curse by Colleen Houck
  • Runaways by Brian K. Vaughn
  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Websites we mention

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Required Reading

Want to read our Tator recommendations? Here is March's Required Reading.

Jeane: Fuzzy Nation and Fault in our Stars (She couldn't pick just one, they were THAT good!)

Jared: A Study in Scarlet(Who doesn't love some Sherlock?)

Angie: Brave New World (which also happens to be April's book choice!)

Karena: The Grapes of Wrath (read about the experience here) and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (review to post April 4th).

Laura: The Night Circus (She succumbed to our peer pressure. Only Jared is left!)

What was the best book you read this month?