Six Degrees of Separation: Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

The Story According to Amazon

Set in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s, Less than Zero has become a timeless classic. This coolly mesmerizing novel is a raw, powerful portrait of a lost generation who have experienced sex, drugs, and disaffection at too early an age. They live in a world shaped by casual nihilism, passivity, and too much money in a place devoid of feeling or hope.

Clay comes home for Christmas vacation from his Eastern college and re-enters a landscape of limitless privilege and absolute moral entropy, where everyone drives Porches, dines at Spago, and snorts mountains of cocaine. He tries to renew feelings for his girlfriend, Blair, and for his best friend from high school, Julian, who is careering into hustling and heroin. Clay’s holiday turns into a dizzying spiral of desperation that takes him through the relentless parties in glitzy mansions, seedy bars, and underground rock clubs and also into the seamy world of L.A. after dark. Link

My Chain

I haven’t read this book, but was in college from 1980–1984 so I’m very familiar with the era. But since the L.A. Times called it an “Updated Catcher in the Rye….” I’ll start with that.

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Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

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Next another novel about the destructive qualities of excess, The Great Gatsby.

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John O’Hara immediately came to mind after reading the blurb on Less Than Zero, but the problem was choosing which of his books to include. I decided Pal Joey was the seediest.

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Vile Bodies is one of Evelyn Waugh’s best-known books, but it’s portrayal of the 1920’s Bright Young Things hasn’t stood up well to the test of time. (My review). But decadence is decadence.

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The Bright Young Things learned decadence from their parents–the Edwardians or late Victorians.  The Shooting Party is a good illustration of that society. Senseless slaughter of birds raised only to be killed, corridor creeping to other beds and a class system so rigid that no one could be truly happy. The Shooting Party. The film is also excellent.

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When the Bright Young Things who survived the 20’s became dreary husbands and wives they escaped their deteriorating standard of living at, what else? House parties like this one, written by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, it had the same look, the same cadence as Downton, but it is Downton’s evil twin. Gosford Park.

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You can read more about Six Degrees of Separation HERE. You can see all of November’s chains HERE.

 

 

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The children I think of when I pack O.C.C. Christmas Shoeboxes, part I

Hopewell's Public Library of Life

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These children are very real to me–it is my old camera that took this photo–I gave it to their uncle. They were all three alive when I left Malawi in 1991. I would imagine all are dead today. Life expectancy is very poor in Malawi and they are from one of the poorest regions of that country. Today there is famine in their home area. This photo was taken the day their mother was buried and sent to me. They took the dress off the mother’s corpse, washed it and the next day the girl above began wearing it. That is poverty. The little boy died a year later for lack of Tylenol for his fever, lack of nutritious food, lack of a mosquito net or chemical mosquito coil to burn and lack of….well…HOPE.

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Even if you stop reading here–you’ll understand more about why I do this and about world…

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Review: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

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I’ve found that when I put books off for a long time there’s a reason and the reason is I just wasn’t ready for them at the time I first thought of reading them. This week I howled with laughter at Cold Comfort Farm—a book I wasn’t sure I’d finish many years ago.  In my 20s I hadn’t enough cultural knowledge to “get it.” Today, with decades of reading British authors and watching British t.v. I got it. I kept thinking of Lol [the name Lol not the texting abbreviation] in my all-time favorite British t.v. show, As Time Goes By, as I listened to Anna Massey’s superb audio version in the car this week.

 

The Story

“Flora inherited, however, from her father a strong will and from her mother a slender ankle.”

Orphaned 20-something Flora Poste (“Robert Poste’s Child!”) imposes herself upon a crew of eccentric country relatives (the Starkadder family) on a rather shabby estate known as Cold Comfort Farm (where there have ALWAYS been Starkadders!). What ensues is Flora’s very matter-of-fact, and hilarious, efforts to put the denizens of Cold Comfort on the path to happiness and prosperity once again.

“Flora sighed. It was curious that persons who lived what the novelists call a rich emotional life always seemed to be a bit slow on the uptake.”

Officially, this is a satirical send-up of Thomas Hardy and other figures in British literature and their angsty, dreary rural stories. I’ve head that the movie version is superb–some say better than the book. I’ll have to withhold judgement until I watch it. Meanwhile, this is a fun rural romp no one who loves anything British should miss.

“By now Flora was really cross. Surely she had endured enough for one evening without having to listen to intelligent conversation?”

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbbons

Currently $2.99 for Kindle

Note: Cover may differ–I chose the cover I liked best for this review.

My Rating

4.5

 

Top 5 Wednesday: Genre Benders

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This week’s topic is “Genre Benders: Books that defy genre or are hard to place in a certain category.”

Remember, I do NOT make money off your clicks. All links to Amazon are provided as a convenience only.

 

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A school/home for disabled students is a world unto itself with tribes, folk lore, fights, loves and much, much more. Part fiction, part fantasy.  You can read more in my review here. The Gray House by Miriam Petrosyan, currently $3.99 for Kindle.

 

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Sarah Addison Allen is an author who knows how to mix up here genres! Part chick lit, part fantasy, part just plain wonderful. I love all of her books, but this is one of my favorites.    The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen, currently $5.99 for Kindle.  Here’s my review from my old blog:  Each [of the author’s books] has a touch of “whimsy”–not really “magic,” not quiet “fantasy,” just some fun little “other worldly” touch. The Sugar Queen lives up to that tradition magnificently! A lady really living in a closet (not metaphorically), a domineering mother, a cute mailman–what’s not to love! If I write more it will spoil the fun!

 

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Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, the Snow Child is a wonderful blend of regular fiction, folk lore and fantasy. I loved it! You can read more in my review here.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

 

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What if the Underground Railroad was a real train on a real track? Colson Whitehead uses this idea to show us all the solutions to slavery–each in a different state. (You can read more in my review here). This is a book for the ages.  A way more more interesting and compelling book than the other big Civil War era book winning awards this year–Lincoln in the Bardo (another Genre-Bender, you can read my review here).                                                                  The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

 

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Chronicles of Narnia author, C.S. Lewis wrote a masterful book that blends fantasy, religion, and epistolary tales into one compelling story.  Through a series of letters,  Screwtape, a Senior member of the Devil’s staff, instructs his nephew, Wormwood, in the art of deceiving and distracting believers so that they take their eyes off God. Though published in the 1940’s, this book is possibly even more relevant today than at the time of its publication. This is not, in any way, a heavy-handed treatise on why you must believe or anything like that. It is an amazing story of human nature.                                                                                                The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

If you prefer, a superb audio version here.

 

 

Won’t you join us in the fun each week by posting your own Top 5 Wednesday post or video? Join the group at Goodreads.com

Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Top 10

I couldn’t top this list, so I’m re-posting it for today’s Top Ten Tuesday–Halloween Freebie list

Hopewell's Public Library of Life

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Like any 60’s kid, I liked trick-or-treating. Chocolate. It was all about the chocolate! This week the Broke and the Bookish selected a “Halloween related freebie: ten scary books, favorite horror novels, non-scary books to get you in the Halloween/fall mood, bookish Halloween costumes, scariest covers), scary books on my TBR, etc” for this week’s topic.

1. Favorite Halloween Decoration

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This is our old haunted house!  It has well-loved, hard-played-with soft Frankenstein, Dracula, Mummy, Black Car, Goblin, a witch, a huge spider and a bat! Both the green goblin and the mummy have done time as cat hunting trophies and have the teeth marks still to prove it. I think this came from Chinaberry in 2003. The nice thing–beyond the hours of happy play my kids enjoyed with it–is that all the inhabitants of the house are stored in the house. Very nice feature. I’m keeping it for my…

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Review: Becoming Mrs. Smith: A Novella by Tanya E. Williams

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The Story

Genre: Historical Fiction/Novella

 

Not all of war’s destruction takes place on the battlefield.

Violet’s heart flutters from the scarlet fever she survived as a child, and it beats faster at the sight of John Smith, the man she plans to marry. America is entrenched in WWII, and when John enlists, Violet is certain she won’t ever forgive him for dashing their dreams. As the realities of war slowly overtake her life, Violet’s days are filled with uncertainty and grief. She struggles to maintain her faith in John, as the world as she knows it, crumbles.

Becoming Mrs. Smith is the inspiring, and at times, heartbreaking story of a woman’s struggle to reclaim what she lost. War stole the man she loves, and childhood illness weakened her heart—perhaps beyond repair. While guns rage in Europe, the war Violet faces at home may be even more devastating.

 

My Review:

Violet’s South Dakota life featured “summer days….of the kind you want to bottle and save” (p. 11). Her childhood bout of scarlet fever leaves her with a fluttering heart–which she originally thinks means she will die from her “broken heart” like her  Grandmother. I thought this was both poignant and sweet.

As she grows up, Vi falls in love with childhood friend, John Smith. When World War II comes she is angered when he enlists. I liked the honesty of this emotion. Too often we think everyone rushed off to enlist in the “Good War,” but the truth was that many did not. Many sought to avoid it, if not by taking the drastic step of being a conscientious objector, then they sought to stay home by being in a protected industry or job.

This novella is the first of two (or more?) books in the series. The next book is expected to be out in 2018.

 

Available on Amazon in Paperback and eBook

You can read more about author Tanya E. Williams at her blog.

 

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Reviews: Two books that revisit the Little House of Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Sarah Miller has gone inside the mind of Caroline Ingalls, mother of Laura and wife of Charles, to tell her side of the Little House story. Set at the time the Ingalls leave the Big Woods in Wisconsin and head out of for “free” land in Kansas, the book takes us thru the harrowing journey  we think we know. There is the powerful current that horses must “swim” the wagon across. There is Jack seemingly lost.  But I’m getting ahead of the story.

One of my few complaints of the Little House books is that Caroline, “Ma,” is too good to be true. She never, ever, forgets something she is taught by Scripture to do or be. This always seems at odds to me with the walk of normal Christian. She works so hard to keep pride out of her children’s character that she is nearly a killjoy. Nearly. Not completely.

When a neighbor, Mrs. Scott, is there helping after a “medical matter” [no spoilers] Caroline notes that Mary, the beautiful first born daughter, is seeking attention in a normal manner from the visiting lady.  This is traumatic for Caroline:

“A flush of mingled shame and pity crept up Caroline’s neck as she grasped her own mistake: in trying to keep Mary unconscious of her beauty, Caroline had instead marred it with another kind of conceit.”

Wow! That’s quite a heavy hair shirt to wear! Her own husband was often boastful, rarely though of what his need for freedom would mean for his family, but Caroline must take on keeping a 5 year old from conceit! All while living in a crude cabin the size of a modern suburban bathroom.

She  had to tamp down her very real fears of running out of food, her hatred of Native Americans and deal with what had to be nearly cripplingly loneliness. By today’s standards her life was as hard or harder than that of people in refugee camps. She hauled water, made every bit of clothing and scrubbed it all by hand, had to watch her family sometimes exist on as little as stale cornbread and molasses, dealt with terrifying weather and yet found faith enough to obey the Scriptures and give thanks in all circumstances.

Her marriage to Charles, a classic “good” bad boy,  good girl romance, was a severe trial. His need for freedom, his inability to allow anyone to control him, makes me think his childhood was abusive and that the abuse made him unable to live with normal levels of “control.”  This is my personal theory–I haven’t read anything about his childhood. But he willingly puts his family in harm’s way over and over again to satisfy his thirst for freedom.

One funny note: I’ve never heard “stays” called “steels” before. Corsets of that day had a variety of stiffening materials it is  true. But “steels” was a new one.

Caroline is an officially sanctioned novel authorized by the Trust that oversees most things Little House. It is one Little House fans will not want to miss. Sarah Miller’s writing is superb. Each word is carefully chosen, each phrase is the work of fine craftswoman. I look forward to anything further books she produces. Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller.

You can listen to an excerpt from the book here.

 

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I did not believe that Susan Wittig Albert could surpass her Eleanor Roosevelt novel,  Loving Eleanor, (read my review here)but she did. A Wilder Rose, is superb. Rose Wilder Lane, the only surviving child of Laura Ingalls Wilder, has long been known to have made her mother’s writing into the stories we know today as the Little House on the Prairie books. But just as Sarah Miller makes Caroline Ingalls come alive, so does Susan Wittig Albert make the real Rose–the Wilder Rose–come alive in this fictionalized account of the writing and publication of the Little House books.

Haunted by guilt from a childhood incident, Rose is forever looking to improve the lot of “Mama Bess” [her mother, Laura]. A successful writer and journalist, Rose Wilder Lane, published novels and short stories throughout the Great Depression–earning a very handsome $25,000 for one piece at a time when the average national income was under $2,000 and most people had little hope of even seeing that. [Writers today would be thrilled to earn that for a piece of short fiction.]

Rose had led a colorful and exciting life–living in Albania for a while, traveling, researching and writing to build a successful career at a time when most women did not do such things. She took in strays–always teenage boys and helped them to achieve. At the time of this book she had returned to her parents Rocky Ridge farm in Missouri with a female friend to try to help her parents financially and to survive the damage the Depression was doing to the magazine industry. Finally the time had come to turn her mother’s childhood memories, carefully handwritten in ordinary tablets of paper, into a sale-able manuscript that might lessen her parents dependence on Rose’s financial help. What happened instead was a publishing phenomenon.

I just plain loved this book. Not a word wrong! Rose was so alive and so believable to me that I hated for the book to end. This book is currently on sale for Kindle for $3.99. At the time I purchased it the Audible audio–also superb–was on sale or free as well.  This is another one that true Little House fans won’t want to miss. Wilder Rose: A Novel by Susan Wittig Albert

 

Review: To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon

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Mitford

Who doesn’t want to live in Mitford? A nice, small town, with no drug problem, no teen pregnancy, no derelict trailer parks, no feral cat colonies, no roadside dump and no vape shop? I’d love it! And, who wouldn’t want to know Father Tim and Cynthia, Dooley and Lace and all the other wonderful liver mush-eating, Cheerwine-drinking denizens of the North Carolina mountain town? Jan Karon’s Mitford is more than a book series–its a whole other world. A world that hugs you tight and makes you believe in miracles. It’s a snow globe year round!

The Story

It’s hard to review a book in a series without providing spoilers to those just starting to immerse themselves in a new fictional world. In retirement Father Tim is finding himself almost as busy as when he served as Priest at Lord’s Chapel Episcopal Church. He and his artist wife, Cynthia, have been thru a lot of adventures since his retirement. Their trip to Ireland was a favorite of mine. Their little band of friends and family, too, has undergone changes. This time it’s Avis, the town’s grocer who was locally sourcing food before it was a hipster-thing, who needs their help.

Out at Meadowgate Farm, Dooley is dealing with a big challenge to his new career and Lace has a professional opportunity of a lifetime while also enjoying the benefit of a dearly loved answered prayer. [No spoilers, remember?]. Dooley’s widely-flung siblings are making their way in the world as well. His birth mother is back, too, providing an opportunity for grace if it can be given.

I love these books because they illustrate how we should live with each other. They are earnest, they are idealized, but they are sweet and comforting and best of all, the election never hit Mitford so there’s no political navel-gazing. Except, possibly, over the Mayor’s race, but that can be discussed in over a huge slice of OMC. [If you don’t recognize that abbreviation, keep reading the series–you soon will.]

Best of all, she’s quit trying to explain who everyone is and how they met–she’s back to writing the books for the series readers. Hurray!!

My Rating

I needed this book this month. I needed the hug, the prayer and the love that it conveyed. I just wish Father Tim had stepped out of character and told Dooley’s brother to pray AND apply for financial aid! No one in books ever applies for financial aid. Think of the lives that could have been changed if Father Tim had offered to wrestle with the FAFSA with Dooley’s brother?  A teeny, tiny thing in a sea of the sweetest sweet tea the South ever served.

4 Stars

Read my review of Come Rain or Come Shine [the previous book in the series]

Top 5 Wednesday: Non-Horror Books that Scared You

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Scary Books in General

I don’t enjoy being scared or frightened. It produces anxiety. Therefore I don’t read many books that give me such emotions. When I do they tend to be nonfiction. At least I understand that fellow human beings endured and sometimes survived seemingly un-survivable events.

 

Nonfiction

 

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An odd book, by an odd man,  that often left me jumping at the slightest sound from outside after dark! The Tracker by Tom Brown, Jr.

 

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What the doctors, nurses and patients endured during Hurricane Katrina was on par with a hospital in any war zone and then some. “And then some,” you say? Yes. This was not a man-made war zone. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.

 

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First let me be clear: I have no sympathy for any Nazis. What happened in the death camps cannot be used as a comparison to anything. It was living hell. Regardless of being a German, a Jewish survivor of the death camps, a displaced person trying to get “home” to whatever was left of “home” to be a woman in the immediate aftermath of the war must still be called “horrific.”  None were safe. That was my one-word review of this book–“horrific”. Scared? Terrified? Just reading it made me terrified–all the more so because women and girls endured it all. Rape is and always will be horrific. All the more horrific when it is regarded as a “weapon” in a soldier’s officially sanctioned arsenal. Sadly, this weapon did not cease to be used in 1945.  After the Reich by Giles MacDonogh. I bought Woman in Berlin after reading this, but can’t bring myself to read it yet. It is a more personal account of the time of the rapes.

 

Fiction

 

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Even knowing how little value life holds in some African nations, even having read of the horrors of the Rwandan genocide and of other violence, a few parts of this novel gave me nightmares.  Here’s my short review from my old blog: “Bored middle class Mommy goes to Nigeria–NIGERIA–for a holiday and it changes her life.Her only child needs therapy and a Mommy who can say “no.” Then there’s the whole “in Africa” thing. If he’d said it one more time, I’d have thrown the book away. Instead, I don’t regret finishing it. It tells a very necessary tale–the tale of what it IS like to be a woman on the outside of a very dangerous society and the tale of the illegal immigrant needing–not merely “wanting”–asylum in a safer country. It is also the perfect illustration of a “First World Problem” Little Bee by Chris Cleave.

 

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I read this years ago and it kept me awake nights for a while afterward. Most of the government is dead! But, wait! There’s more! Ebola! And still more! Tom Clancy’s Executive Orders.

 

Join Top 5 Wednesday at Goodreads.com and post your own list or video list! It’s fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Unique Book Titles

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This week’s topic: Top Ten Unique Book Titles.

 

1. A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka. This book is a fun account of an older man falling for a much younger immigrant woman who is searching for wealth in Britain. It is hilarious in places and funny throughout.

2. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl For some reason I did not review it either here or on Goodreads,  but gave it 4 stars in my reading log.

3. In the Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda. Here’s my review from my old blog:

In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda I didn’t know what to think of this, but ended up marveling at this boy’s survival instinct. Makes me cringe when I think of the silly stuff we American parents “worry” about happening to our kids–like bad grades, not being picked for the team or having to eat nutrition-free school lunches. This young man, even though this is a fictionalized account of his life, is a ROLE MODEL. And his mother DID know what she was doing–she gave him LIFE for ever, not for the short selfish term.

4. All Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg. Here’s my review from my old blog:

If you grew up in the late 60s and early 70s likely you remember Fannie Flagg trading wise cracks with Gene Rayburn, Brett Summers and Charles Nelson Riley on the The Match Game. Well, today, she’s the author of a great slew of novels. The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion tells the story of the SPARS–women who ferried planes to US Army Air Corps bases during World War II. It’s also the story of identity and what it means to be “me” and “us.” This little gem is interesting, fun and well worth your time in every way. And, please, somebody play me the “Aw Jeese, You Bet Polka.” The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg.

5. Sima’s Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stranger-Ross. Here’s my review from my old blog:

I’ve long been fascinated by all types of fundamentalism, regardless of the political or religious creed the espouse. Sima’s Undergarments for Women is set in a mostly Orthodox and Hassidic Jewish neighborhood in New York. As the title indicates, Sima sells lingerie–the real stuff that real women wear daily. She fits bras perfectly–altering them when necessary. [Yes, I learned a lot!] The story intermingles her struggle to have children with that of the young woman she takes under her wing as a sort of surrogate daughter. Her stale marriage, a friend’s glorious marriage, all get worked into the story. Sima’s Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross.

6. Gonzales and Daughter Trucking Company by Maria Amparo Escandon. Read my review.

7. Why Can’t Somebody Just Die Around Here? by Gerhard Marocher Read my review.

8. Dark Ferret Society and Rise of the Narcoleptic Turtles by Emily Humphreys. Read my review. YA Fans, check out this great series!

9.  Ginger, You’re Barmy by David Lodge. Read this one years ago in the Peace Corps.

10. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. Read my review.

 

If you’d like to play along and post your own Top Ten Tuesday list, join the link-up at The Broke and The Bookish each week. Here are the rules. You can read all of this week’s great lists here.