Book Review: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

VMars Thousand DollarEver year, Eric’s dad and his entire extended family take a trip to the beach. It’s a wonderful, week-long affair that includes nightly home cooked meals, sunburns, and rocking chairs. The house sleeps close to 30 people, and we usually end up at capacity. It’s not a quiet trip, but it is full of love and fun.

I love walking along the beach at sunset, and spending hours lounging in the pool, but if I’m being perfectly honest, my absolute favorite thing to do during beach week is sit on the huge back porch and read or listen to an audio book. The porch faces the ocean, and it’s the perfect place to find a little bit of peace in the afternoon, when most folks are out tanning themselves or building sandcastles.

In preparation for beach week, I read the previous Summer Reading Guides from Modern Mrs. Darcy, as well as various other summer reading recommendation lists through out her site. I can’t recall where I saw the recommendation for The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, but she specifically suggests trying the audio version, as Kristen Bell narrates it.

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line picks up shortly after the events of the 2014 movie. While this is a great continuation of a beloved fictional universe, it is also definitely a stand-alone story, and there’s enough influence from the exposition fairy that you don’t necessarily have to be a fan to enjoy the read.

The novel takes place in Neptune during spring break, so imagery of beaches, bikinis and body shots abound. But the atmosphere of a film noir is unmistakable. Sketchy eye witnesses, hidden agendas, and powerful political forces make the search for two missing girls a difficult, seemingly insurmountable one. The investigation twists and turns at a solid, if expected pace, and the welcome introduction of high powered, morally ambiguous, former-model-turned-hotelier Petra Landros adds a new layer to the already complex and politically charged beach town.

The story is a great mystery, as I said, with suspects, misdirection, and dangers galore. To the “marshmellow” fans out there, this is a welcome addition to the canon. Absolutely true to the heart of the show, the wit, the love, the pessimism with a dash of hope – all of it is there, along with fan favorite characters and a few surprising returns.

Kristen Bell’s narration of the audiobook is a fun way to ease into the new delivery platform. She’s playful in her impersonations of Weevil, Keith, Mac and Wallace. But hearing the narrative from Veronica herself made the transition from silver screen more seamless. Thomas and Graham’s descriptions were so clear and perfect, I could close my eyes and see Dog Beach or Mars Investigation without missing a beat.

I truly loved coming back to Neptune. I know the next installment, Mr. Kiss and Tell, will feel just as familiar, while keeping me on my toes with Thomas’s signature dark mystery and sardonic humor. 5 Stars

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Random Thoughts

I. According to a 2013 study done by the Pew Research Center, the average American adult reads (or listens to) 12 books a year. I’ve read 11 so far, and that number seems so puny. I’m currently in the middle of The Veins of the Ocean, The Paper Magician, The Drawing of the Three, and I just started Crafting Novels & Short Stories: The Complete Guide to Writing Great Fiction. So, I know that number is on the rise, but I wish I hadn’t wasted so  much of this year NOT reading.

II. Speaking of Crafting Novels & Short Stories, I’ve started writing. Aside from keeping up this blog, I’ve also been jotting ideas down for fiction. I’ve never been a good writer, I don’t think. I’ve received minor praise in the past for some class assignments – a short story or a poem here and there, but if we’re being honest, my attempts are often remedial and mundane. But the summer I turned 30, we went to the beach, and one night I sat on the back porch and wrote an entire story about one of the most important relationships of my life. And I’m actually very proud of it. Since then, I’ve had other ideas here and there, and I feel like now is the time to start writing them down. I want to see where they can go with a little guidance, direction and editing. I’m excited. I hope I don’t suck.

III. I said before that I don’t want too much structure to this blog, but I do want to make a goal to write enough to have a post every weekday. I’m pretty far behind in my Book Reviews, and there a few projects I’m planning for around the house that I’d like to share. I’m praying that my summer slows down enough so that I can sit down with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and really commit to this. Not for any outward plans, but just because writing a little bit every day help you become a better writer, a better communicator.

I have a terrible memory, and I make jokes all the time that I’m losing words, but as I get older, the jokes become less funny and take on a slightly serious, slightly scary tone. I don’t want to lose words anymore. I want to keep them, hold them, cherish them, use them.

So I want to use this little corner of the Internet to keep my words from leaving me. I hope that’s okay. I hope it works.

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Book Review: The Gunslinger

thegunslingerFor years I spent my summers working for a local theater company, Georgia Shakespeare (may it rest in peace). Aside from the gorgeous repertory productions they put on every year, meeting new people from all over the east coast, lovers of theater trying to make it in the field, was the best thing about the company. One of these folks, a boy with piercing blue eyes who liked to drink too much beer and play Pearl Jam on his acoustic guitar, gave me his copy of The Gunslinger the last night of the season.

I didn’t like westerns much at the time, and after leafing through a few pages, I put it down. But year after year, when I would cull my book collection this one always stayed on the shelves, never quite making it to the donation box.

Then, a few months ago, a famous author and two famous actors sent the internet into a flutter of excitement with three tweets.

gunslinger twitter

Credit: VF

I figured now was as good a time as any to pick up and start again. It was one of the first tolerable days of spring. The nip in the air from our short winter was gone, but it was still fairly cool, even in the sun. I grabbed a long sleeve t-shirt, a decaf coffee, and The Gunslinger, and sat down in a camp chair on our front porch. Eric came out with his phone, ready to read whatever Cracked article would tell him the most about science, when he asked me what I was reading. I told him it was a Stephen King fantasy, and that they were making a movie starring Stringer Bell and “Alright alright alright”. His interest was piqued, but he continued with his Cracked articles.

The next day, I found him on the front porch with my book in hand.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Reading.”

“But I’m reading that.”

“Okay. But I like it.”

“…Do you want to read it together?”

And so, together we read The Gunslinger, mostly on our front porch, mostly drinking a bourbon or a beer, me reading aloud playing with voices. We read about Roland Deschain, his dark history, the town of Tull, Alice. We read about the tragedies of Jake Chambers, the muties, the search for the Dark Tower. And we read about the Man in Black.

This story sucked me in from the start. I don’t know how I wasn’t compelled the first time around, but every time I put this book down I was sad to leave. The world of the Gunslinger is fascinating and familiar, and also completely foreign and inexplicable. Roland is a complicated and mysterious man, his mission simple and yet hard to pin down. His relationship with Jake Chambers – sweet, confused, wise, Jake –  is something that both softens him, and almost derails him from his path.

What is the Dark Tower? Why is Roland drawn to find it? The Gunslinger asks so many questions and gives very few answers. Obviously, we’ll be picking up the second book of the series. 5 Stars

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Home Owners: First Projects

We bought a house, and with that came, unexpectedly, a new rush of pride in our own property.

Just a few weeks ago, while we were still renting, I was sitting with some friends, drinking wine and discussing some local politics in my old neighborhood. The table got a little…heated. I mentioned that it could take weeks, sometimes months, to get potholes covered. We dealt with flooding issues every summer, not because of rain, but because the sewers are not maintained. This lack of interest by the local government was hurting, not just me and mine, but my neighbors who came from lower income households who had no voice.

Every mention of an issue, my friend would ask if I called my mayor. Or my councilperson. Or my representative. When I said no, his face would burst open in a flabbergasted expression. We would talk about the issues, and I would state my opinion, and he would say “as a renter.” I was so offended.

And yet, as much as it pains me to admit, purchasing my own home, my own property, has completely shifted my mindset. No longer do I merely follow the local issues on Nextdoor or in Facebook groups. I’ve already marked my calendar for upcoming meetings with the neighborhood association. I’m researching my police precinct and other elected officials. In our old neighborhood, I left it to the homeowners because I assumed no one wanted to hear from renters – but I never pushed to make my voice heard either because the stakes were low for me. So, as loathe as I am to admit it, my friend was right.

Similarly, my mindset surrounding home maintenance has completely evolved. Please don’t get me wrong, we were great tenets.We kept the yard mowed, the house acceptably clean, we reported every issue, we tried to fix small effortless problems. But for the most part, I believed that the house belonged to the owner, and as such it was his responsibility to spend the hours patching holes, replacing ovens, remediating mold. And to be clear, the law agrees.

But since moving into our new home, I’ve found there’s even more to owning a house than these types of maintenance issues. My first two projects have little to do with immediate concerns, and everything to do with wanting to lovingly care for my home.

Our house-hunting occurred during mulberry season, apparently. We have several large mulberry trees lining our driveway, and overhanging the front steps. On the day of our tour, the trees seemed to have shed every berry in their leaves, and driveway, walkway, steps, and terrace were covered and almost completely black by them, having been squashed by the various prospective buyers and realtors. Much like moving into a rental property, I had assumed that the seller would clean the area prior to our closing. He did not. Our amazing realtor gifted us with a house cleaning prior to move-in, and again I assumed the berries would be taken care of. They were not.

On the day we moved in, I purchased a broom for the outdoors and tried to sweep the mulberry crust away, but they had been so trotted, squished, and hardened by the sun that this was a fruitless task.

So the weekend of July 4, we purchased a hose and scrub brush, and the day we returned from vacation, I got down on my hands and knees, dish soap and scrubber in hand, and cleaned my front steps.

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New Welcome Mat.

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No More Mulberries!

It feels good. Our entrance is more welcoming, and I feel proud to have friends come over. I sweep it almost daily, and I love peeking out the window knowing how much more cheerful and inviting it looks now.

But that wasn’t enough! I also decided that as a homeowner, I need to garden. This is similar to Eric’s bizarrely new impulse to build things (more to come on that).

I decided that edible plants were the way to go, and not only that but seedlings might lead to better success in my first vegetation endeavor.

So I bought some tools.

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For to Garden!

And then I got to work. I did a little bit of reading about what might survive being planted in the middle of a Georgia July. Basil and rosemary seemed to be the winners. The rest will have to wait until fall or spring. (Hopefully my first experiments will still be alive by then.)

So I bought a basil plant, a rosemary plant, and some various types of potting soil.

Quick side tangent – I’m very lucky to be marrying a man who has a wonderful and generous family, including two sisters, at least one of whom has inherited her mother’s green thumb. This sister once gave me 7 pots of flowers to keep alive when she moved from her shotgun house with a front porch to a loft with no outdoor space. Apparently I was supposed to water them. So anyway, I have 7 pots now.

So I filled the pots with potting soil, watered the roots of the seedlings, and then buried them, and placed the pots on my front stairs. Apparently these plants need “full sun” or at least 6+ hours per day. The only place to get that is in the very front of my house, and not on the side of my house where there is a perfect patch of dirt next to the door by the kitchen just begging for a little garden. Best laid plans.

So here are my plants! I’m growing things! Hopefully I’m not killing things! It’s all very new and exciting.

And that is the story of my first adventures in home ownership.

 

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Review: & Sons

And SonsWhat a gorgeous novel. This was my first selection from the Book of the Month Club, selected by Josh Radnor. I was so incredibly pleased. The plot summary mentioned that the novel is book ended by deaths, and the reviews I read begged the reader not to let the morose subject deter them. I’m so glad I didn’t, because getting to know the Dyer family was a sad and wonderful journey.

The novel is told in first person by an unreliable and inconsequential narrator, and yet somehow the focus is able to shift between various players who don’t share a space with him. And while this could make for a frustrating, plot hole driven experience, Gilbert has masterfully created a character so pathetically drawn to this family that it only seems natural that he would know what each member is doing at any given moment.

This is not a novel with fast action and plot twists (though it has one or two). It is a beautiful study of a genius going mad, and how his talent and self-destructive nature impacts the people he loves the most – a somewhat familiar tale.

The prose are lovingly crafted by Gilbert, shifting subtly depending on the character in focus, and I wanted to devour every word. I lingered on paragraphs, awestruck by some of his turns of phrase.

This book is not without it’s faults though, and I can’t write about it in 2016 and not mention the stark lack of diversity – in race, gender, and privilege. With one brief exception, the “view point” characters are white, abundantly wealthy, and male. I loved reading about them, their motivations, and their struggles, but even while enjoying some of the most lovely parts of the novel, a nagging voice in the back of my head asked “Haven’t we read this before? Over and over and over?”

I still love this novel, unabashedly, and will recommend it time and again. Simultaneously, I will hold out a small bit of hope that talented writers like David Gilbert will use their pens to write pieces that are slightly more modern and inclusive. 4.5 Stars

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DNF: A History of God

I bought this book in 2007, half a year out of school, still trying to impress the boys reading Noam Chomsky and The Economist.

I’ve always found religion, history, and human nature fascinating and full of layers. At 22 years old, with more time on my hands than I knew what to do with, and fresh out of new episodes of Friday Night Lights, I wanted to read books that piqued my interest and enlightened me. Or at least I thought I did.

Non-fiction, even the most highly rated and captivating, has always bored me. I wish it didn’t. I know there is so much to learn from memoirs and academic essays. But the books I’ve found the hardest to push through (with a few exceptions) fall squarely into the non-fiction category.

Unfortunately, this book joins that list. I have picked it up and started from page 1 more times than I can count. In 2007, I thought perhaps I needed more patience, less distractions. I bookmarked page 17 and left it to sit. I picked it up, started over, let it sit. Picked it up, started over, let it sit.

Earlier this year, I picked it up again. Craving some exercise for my brain, begging to be enriched, I thought “Now is the time!”

And I finally, after 9 years, finished chapter 1. As a Jewish person, reading such a detached and historical depiction of the Hebrew tribes was difficult and eye-opening. But the style is still dry and any hint of story telling is still far too academic and impersonal for me.

In a work of non-fiction like this, the detachment is probably for the best. There is no judgement of religion, no qualitative assessments, no clear preference. But I’ve found that those sorts of author-biases are what drive me to continue. So this is obviously just a personal preference, but this book is not for me, and after almost a decade, I’m putting it down for good. 2 Stars

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Reading List: July 5, 2016

Heat & Light: A Novel, by Jennifer Haigh

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel, by Susanna Clarke

Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, by Chelsea Handler

Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama

First Love, Last Rites: Stories, by Ian McEwan

On Deck:

The Rowan Tree, by Robert W. Fuller

Mr. Kiss and Tell, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

Waking Kate, by Sarah Addison Allen

The Beggar King, by Oliver Potzsch

Before the Fall, by Noah Fawley

Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub

The Veins of the Ocean, by Patricia Engel

Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Nuevel

Missing, Presumed, by Susie Steiner

Lost Lake: A Novel, by Sarah Addison Allen

First Front: A Novel, by Sarah Addison Allen

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