Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer of Reading

So much of that has been done lately that I would be too embarrassed to post a comprehensive list up here lest it be apparent that I'm not doing enough writing (ahem).

But some of the books I've read lately really deserve comment, so here goes.

The first time I noticed Towelhead by Alicia Erian was many years ago when I saw a review of it in Vogue. It had actually been reviewed by everyone and their grandmother back then as it seems this little book about a shy, withdrawn 13-year-old sent by her not-all-there Irish mother to live with her cold, old-fashioned and borderline abusive Lebanese dad was subject to a lot of hoopla when it came out. I read the review, told myself I'd buy the book, and then promptly forgot about the whole business until I happened upon it a few years later in an adorable indie shop in Vegas (had a hilarious conversation with the lovely elderly owner of that shop...I think I was her only customer that day and even she seemed surprised that in a town where everyone comes for the slots and a dose of designer shopping, I was spending time in a bookstore). As with every other time I walk into a bookstore, I have a hard time walking out with just one or two books, and Towelhead lost the battle against an autographed hardcover of Isabel Allende's Zorro. Then, a few years after that, I noticed the paperback version of this book and finally bought it. It languished in my To Be Read pile until finally, last month, Marie Claire recommended the movie version of the book, coming out this August (watch the trailer here). I couldn't put the book down. It has the appeal of slowing down to stare at a train wreck, albeit a funny (at times) train wreck. But when it's not funny, it's heartbreaking and horrific and perverse, and you'd probably stop reading if not for the feeling that Erian's thin tome, although wrong in some details of authenticity, rings like something that might happen more often than we'd think in a world where adults are often more lost than their kids. Read it, but be prepared to be disturbed.

Then there was This Charming Man by Marian Keyes. Marian is one of the very few authors with massive commercial appeal who is allowed to meander for pages and pages of character and setting detail (and I don't mean description) with the aim of advancing the resonance of her novels rather than the plot. The plot always ties together in beautiful, intricate, and highly intelligent ways at the end, but in the hands of lesser writers, the readership might not have stuck around for 600+ pages rich with detail and character development. This one is her most ambitious yet - touches Irish politics but only insofar as they affect a very tangible, very real issue that's probably close to a lot of women's hearts (though if more men cared about it, maybe it wouldn't happen so much). Read it only if you have A LOT of spare time on your hands because you won't put it down until you've made it through all 680-odd pages.

The last book I devoured was Alisa Valdez-Rodriguez's Dirty Girls on Top. I've been waiting on this one for a few years now, so I obviously couldn't resist buying it hardcover even though I'm trying very hard to cut back on hardcovers (besides the price issue, they don't fit in half my handbags). As much as I liked it (and I did). I was sad to see that the author had poured all her character development into the original Dirty Girls and left the sequel a little thin. It was nonetheless as sexy as the title suggests, funny, fast-paced, and engrossing, so far better than a lot of fiction I've read in general, but I thought her first one was a masterpiece - difficult to surpass. Caution: if you've never read the first one, you might find the cast unsympathetic and hard to relate to, so you should really pick up Dirty Girls Social Club for the full experience.

Up next: DeNiro's Game by fellow Lebanese-Montreal-Canadian debut author Rawi Hage. I'm not sure how much of a splash this novel is making in the States right now but up here, it's HUGE. Won all kinds of awards, and recounts some of the worst days of the Lebanese civil war but in a supposedly fresh, original way. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Forgotten Isle

I don't know about you but all I ever associated with Puerto Rico were Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and Marc Anthony. The thought of it did fleetingly enter my mind as a possible and very accessible alternative to Cuba.
After all, both Cubans and Puerto Ricans claim Salsa as their own, both islands have a somewhat similar geography and history(if you forget about all that Communist stuff...), even if Cuba is much bigger and closer to the United States.

I don't know a whole lot about US-Puerto Rican relations, but they seem a little strained to me, what with many Americans of Anglo/Germanic origin annoyed with the large Puerto Rican communities in their midst despite PR being practically another state, and with Puerto Ricans themselves not exactly sure what kind of relationship they'd like to have with the States.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to me to be totally charmed off my feet by this little island even after I believed the Caribbean could no longer surprise me.

Take a look...

So why don't we hear more about this place? Is it because Cuba sounds so much more alluring what with it's "forbidden" status? (which always cracks me up... its only "forbidden" to one group of people on the face of the entire planet folks. To they rest of us, it's, well... a place where they make great mojitos and everyone gets free health care).

I'll be telling you much more about it in the coming months seeing as lil'sis is moving there.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hola from... Puerto Rico!

Long story... will make subject of a proper post one day soon, but am in beautiful San Juan, Puerto Rico with lil' sis on a very last minute, impromptu trip.

God I miss the Caribbean.

I had no idea what to expect coming here, but San Juan is certainly living up to my romantacized expectations... it's South Beach meets Havana, if Havana had McDonald's and toilet paper.

Took lots and lots of pics which I will post up on the blog as soon as I get home.

Tons of non-writing related news... bought a condo! Finally! Started reading "Kitchens & Baths" magazine! Picked out kitchen cabinets and door handles! Very fun stuff, even if quite suburbanized and bourgeois for my taste. In other news, the website redesign is coming along, can't wait to have that up and running for you guys.

Also, so many of my favorite authors came out with new books this summer I can barely keep up. Must blog about that soon...

And of course...can't wait for SAN FRANCISCO!

In the meantime, here's one of aforesaid favorite authors making voicing her opinion on one of my favorite news sites.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

GCC Presents... Amy Wallen!

I'd nearly forgotten how much Montreal slows down in this season of hot, long, lazy days and lively festivals, one after the other. Not a whole lot of work gets done by anyone (we only get two months of proper summer after all) and that includes me and blogging.

In case you were looking for some fresh new fiction for your holiday reading, next up on out GCC tour is Moonpies and Movie Stars by Amy Wallen, enjoying a paperback release this month.

Before I get into the novel itself, I'd like to give you a little glimpse of the writer who reminds me a little of novelist Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Prey, Love in the sense that Wallen is a bit of a nomadic globetrotter herself who just weeks ago returned from hiking to Macchu Picchu. A native of Texas, her father's job took her to places as near and far as Louisianna, Mississippi, Nevada, Nigeria, Peru, Bolivia, and Oklahoma (and I thought I'd travelled...). Still, it's those summers spent helping her grandmother run a convenience store on highway 90 in Brackettville, Texas that inspire this wanderlust-stricken writer's prose.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest allure of Southern themed novels? Why did you chose to set your novel in the South?

For me, my first novel just came to me innately. I didn’t have a choice of what I was going to write. I don’t necessarily call myself a Southerner, but on the other hand, I think of myself as second generation Texan because I was raised by Texans, just no in the state of Texas.

I think the allure of Southern novels comes from the crazy uninhibited personalities. Flannery O’Connor once commented that New York book reviewers would never understand southern writing because unless you’ve been to the south and seen firsthand that the people really do have a different joie de vivre, then you can’t grasp that the far out characters really do exist. I’m misquoting her, and wish I had time to look up exactly what she said, but that’s the gist of it. Southern novels are just rife with characters and crazy goings on. But it’s all real and true, even when it’s fiction.

What’s the next book, fiction or non-fiction, you’re dying to read next?

I have two. Both memoirs. The Shadow Man by Mary Gordon and The Bishop’s Daughter by Honor Moore. I’m dying to write the story of my father. He’s one of the funniest people I know, and a tremendous storyteller. His career took him and my family to many distant and exotic places. But I have a feeling he has a secret underneath it all. I may write a novel, instead of a memoir, but I only have snippets in my head right now. I’m working on a completely fictional other novel right now, so this is just a distant project I’m mulling over.

Name a book you’ve read over and over again, and you’d probably read again in the future.

Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. I’ve read it probably 7 times and probably will read it 7 more. Every time I read it it’s a different experience. We evolve so much in our lives and the story of Holden Caulfield trying to find his place just always rings true, but in a different way as I move through my own life. He makes me laugh, cry and think. I love that in any story.

Can you tell us about any real-life events that inspired a scene or two in your book?

My grandmother who lived in Brackettville, Texas and who owned several different businesses, including a beauty shop, a honky tonk (beer joint), and a convenience store/gas station, inspired and influenced several scenes, but without a doubt she was the reason I wrote the big Price is Right scene in MoonPies and Movie Stars. Whenever I visited, she would always ask me, “How come you live out in California and you ain’t never been on one of them game shows?” So, I put a game show in the book for her. There’s also a Willie Nelson sighting in the book and she inspired that.

What kind of research did you do for this novel?

I had to go to bowling alleys and not only try to bowl and eat fried cheese and drink bad beer, but I found tiny old out of the way bowling alleys that still had the old workings and asked the owners to tell me about the mechanics and about the way bowling was before everything became computerized. I met some really interesting characters and I found a great old six-lane bowling alley out in Pioneertown, CA near Palm Springs. It was an old movie set for Roy Rogers, I believe it was, and he wanted to have something to do between sets so he had this six-lane bowling alley built. It’s still there, still running and it has great cafĂ© attached where supposedly the first Patty Melt was ever made. Patty herself used to own the bowling alley, the story goes. It’s a trip back to the past, Pioneertown. Out in the middle of the desert, just a ghost town really. But if you get a chance, find it on a map and check it out.

What up next for you?

I’m working on another novel. I have a contract with Hyperion. It’s a fun project that I’m about half way through. It’s the story of a senior artists colony in Burbank, CA. When their benefactor and guru dies, the bohemian retirees, Hollywood has-beens and wannabes, don’t know how to save themselves or their home.

What’s the most useful thing, in terms of promotion, that you’ve done?

I go to book clubs. A lot. All over. It’s been the most fun I could ever have. I love it much more than the book tour, which was also fun, but the book clubs environment is much more intimate and less inhibited. We always have a great time and I’ve made so many wonderful new friends. I have ton of funny family stories I like to tell and so I keep the reading to a minimum, but I tell all the inside scoop on where story inspiration came from.

Ruby Kincaid has her hands full these days. In addition to running the bowling alley after the death of her husband, Rascal, she has the daunting task of caring for her two boisterous grandchildren, since her daughter Violet disappeared without a trace four years earlier. It’s 1976 and Ruby and her nearest and dearest in Devine, Texas are watching their favorite soap opera at the bowling alley when they see Violet in a Buttermaid commercial. Expecting it will only take a little motherly guilt to rein in her wayward daughter, Ruby loads up the Winnebago and heads for Hollywood to try and bring Violet back to the Lone Star State.
Along for the ride are Imogene, Violet’s over-bearing and pretentious mother-in-law (who’s ready to assume the title of “celebrity-in-law”), and Loralva, Ruby’s wild sister who is itching to visit Tinsel Town because it’s where all the game shows are taped – and nothing’s going to stop her from making it to her favorite, The Price Is Right. Rounding out the group are Ruby’s grandchildren Bunny and Bubbie who are confused, sad, and excited at the prospect of finding their mother. They give Ruby the courage she needs to track Violet down and try to make things right.
While MOONPIES AND MOVIE STARS is great fun and a lot of laughs, it is also a poignant story of dreaming big, finding home, and coming to terms with family.

And if that doesn't get you running to the bookstore, here's a quote from the Los Angeles Times:

[S]pirited and honest… Wallen capably illustrates that it is not only possible but also compelling to be funny, captivating, and compassionate, all in the same book.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I Know Spain Won But...

Portugal still gets my vote for hottest team.

Meant to psot this last week but was consumed by aforementioned move. Enjoy the view, ladies!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Happy Canada Day and Moving Is Brutal

I never understood why Canada Day is the unofficial moving day across Quebec, and possibly across the nation (actually – I hope this is a strictly Quebecois phenomenon, as would explain a lot… might turn out to be nefarious separatist plot to prevent Federalists from actually enjoying the day off).

This year I was a very reluctant participant in this annoying tradition, and luckily for me, because I have the luxury of my parents’ basement, I could actually prepare early for this move and let all my earthly belongings sit somewhere temporarily while I moved my stuff in waves.

I think that the worst aspect of moving is that the mere thought of it highjacks your brain, preventing you from doing anything other than dreading the torture to come.

At least that’s my excuse for not blogging : )

Stay tuned for an interview with Amy Wallen, author of Moonpies & Movie Stars, and a brief review of some fabulous fiction I’ve been reading (the latest Marian Keyes… yet another reason I couldn’t blog… could NOT put it down).

But for today... the plan is to enjoy this gorgeous day off.

Happy Canada Day!