Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Desperately Seeking...

The Right Reader. Mature, loves unique characters in unusual circumstances, lyrical prose, and powerful storytelling. Okay, so enough with the personal ad metaphor. The Girls by Lori Lansens is one of the best books I've ever read, and you know I don't say that lightly. I was going to title this post "Best. Book. Ever." but I changed my mind upon reflecting on the fact that this book isn't for every reader. It's not fast-paced, stripped down, and about a gruesomely gripping subject like vampires (see my previous *Peeps* post). The Girls is a thoughtful, beautifully-written novel told in an autobiographical style about the lives of two Canadian sisters, Rose and Ruby Darlen. Each sister takes a turn telling chapters from her own perspective, so events are often described in markedly different ways. Also, the focal point of each girl's life is different, so what is important to one sister is only a blip on the screen of the other. But what about the "unique characters in unusual circumstances" I mentioned earlier? Here's the kicker: the girls are conjoined twins, connected to each other by a dinnerplate-size spot at the head. At 29, Rose and Ruby are the world's oldest living conjoined twins and although their circumstances are remarkable, their lives are lived quietly and comfortably. Quietly and comfortably, that is, until a doctor's diagnosis changes everything. The diagnosis prompts Rose (the literary one) to write her autobiography and Ruby to follow her lead (after all, Ruby says, how can it be Rose's autobiography only, if they're conjoined twins?). I was completely enchanted by this book, and after reading the author's note at the end, I realized why I connected so much to Lansens as an author. She lists her most favorite and influential books as: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (my all-time favorite book); Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (another favorite); and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (I read it in 11th grade and was inspired to begin keeping a book of favorite passages, which I still maintain today). Although The Girls is not for everyone, it was most certainly for me, and I'm giving it 4 out of 4 Bananas!!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Peeps: It's not about delicious marshmallow chickens

If you like all things vampire, or even if you don't, you should read Peeps by Scott Westerfeld. It is a scary, smart, wickedly funny and totally original re-imagining of what makes a vampire a vampire, and, more importantly, why. In Westerfeld's world, a certain parasite exists which invades a victim's body, infests her brain, and creates in her a voracious appetite for meat and blood. It also gives her superhuman strength, sight, and smell. Over the centuries, according to Westerfeld, people infected with the parasite have been called different things: witches, zombies and, of course vampires. All of the odd-numbered chapters tell the story of Cal, a carrier of the vampire parasite. As a carrier, he has superhuman senses and strength, but he does not become a crazed bloodsucker or cannibal like those with the full-blown parasite. He is employed by the top-secret, centuries-old Night Watch, an organization in New York City which hunts down new vampires and keeps tabs on the rat populations (which also carry the parasite). In the course of his work, Cal meets Lace, a cute, straight-talking journalism student who becomes more and more curious about Cal's occupation. The only problem Cal faces getting to know Lace is that he can't EVER be physically intimate with anyone, not even to kiss, because the parasite is transferred by saliva and other bodily fluids. What's a guy to do? Eventually Cal and Lace strike a deal and begin to dig deeper into the increasingly alarming new strain of vampirism that is affecting the city. What they find will shock them to the core. The even-numbered chapters describe various real-life parasites, how they work, how they infect their hosts, and include a multitude of gory details you'll wish you never knew!
I loved this book. I want everyone to read it and then talk to me about it. Westerfeld has a wry, irrererent sense of humor and wickedly twisted imagination. Hands down 4 out of 4 Bananas!