It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today by The Gang

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today, The IASIP Gang, Dey Street, 2015

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today by The Gang

If you have never watched an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” then this book is not for a jabroni like you.

But if you are a glue-huffing degenerate who enjoys the antics of the most wretched gang of drunks (who are a fusion the best and worst of the”Trailer Park Boys” and “Seinfeld”) this is a self-help book for written just for us suckers geniuses.

Charlie

The funniest sections were Charlie’s by far. It’s ironic that an illiterate’s writings and rants were the best. Love his advice for stalking the one you love. His avian brilliance also reminds us why he is the pre-eminent expert on US bird law.

And his recipes for making cheese are priceless. Remember that old Polly-o String Cheese Commercial?

(Blond kid walks into pizzeria)

KID: Gimme me pizza with extra cheese….And hold the sauce…And hold the crust.

CASHIER (bewildered): Hey Jimmy, give me a cheese with nuttin’!

JIMMY (dumbfounded): Nuttin’?!!

POLLY-O STRING CHEESE COMMERCIAL

Other cheese making recipes include stealing from rat traps or making your own cheese with orange juice and half and half, letting it sit around for a couple of weeks behind a toilet…and enjoy!

That Charlie, he’s a cheese-rat genius.

Dennis

Dennis’ sections are lucid and intelligent. He actually gives good advice on how to not get stuck doing Charlie work and how a man should properly apply makeup (to his face, abs and penis). Dennis may be a potential serial killer, is questionably a rapist and absolutely is a voyeur, but other than that, he’s a golden god with a body sculpted to proportions of Michaelangelo’s David, so what he says matters.

Frank

I love Frank’s advice how to screw over everybody. That man knows his stuff. And his recipes! Mmm-mmm! Now I know how to make a delicious rum ham using only a canned ham, a few bottles of rum, a gun and several bullets. Plus Italian parsley for garnish to make it classy. There’s his blue-jean tea recipe which require crabs dredged out from the polluted Delaware river.

But his recipe for raccoon…yummy! For you “Hannibal” fans afraid to take the leap into full-out cannibalism, a raccoon is as close as you’ll get to tasting human flesh. Just watch out for those tapeworms. Unless you want tapeworms to lose weight, then it’s all good.

The Gangly Bird

Dee’s sections surprisingly didn’t suck, even though she’s the useless chick. As we all know in this group there is the Wildcard: Charlie, The Brain: Mac, The Looks: Dennis, The Muscle: Frank and the Useless Chick: Dee (also known as the giant bird). Her reverse D.E.N.N.I.S system S.I.N.N.E.D. is awesome, because while Dennis bangs chicks just to bang them and leave, Dee bangs guys to steal from them.

Even Frank says he’s proud of his girl because she is both a whore and a thief, and that’s the best way to get through life is whorin’ and thievin’. (She’s also likes to poison people, but that big, yellow bird can’t do anything right!)

Mac

As last, Mac… Well his sections weren’t awful, but they were the least funny. At first I did laugh at how he went on and on about the oily, buffed, masculine physiques of certain action stars (Carl Weathers, Sly Stallone, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dolph Lundgren). And we all know he is certainly 1000% not gay, so there’s nothing to be read in there. His comment about it being “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve Hawking” did merit a chuckle, but he should stick to topics he knows best, like his martial art moves and occular pat-downs.

Opinion

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today by The Gang is a classic destined to be treasured forever with the writings of Shakespeare and Twain and Hemingway. No doubt will it be taught in classrooms for decades to come.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin, Bantam, 1996

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book – A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

After reading A Game of Thrones, I concluded that George R. R. Martin is like a little boy who likes to create a big tower out of blocks, carefully laying one on top of the other, so the column reaches a great pinnacle that amazes. As mom’s running to take a picture, he gleefully smashes it down and watches the pieces scatter all over the room.

I was a haughty scoffer about “A Game of Thrones.” It was a popular TV show I didn’t watch. I watched programs like “Turn,” “Bates Motel,” “Damages,” and “Hannibal”…shows that are smart, but few knew were on the air. I had an annoying, superior attitude of “I am smart, do you hear me, you unwashed masses!” 😉 So when everyone and their brother, sister, uncle, plumber, and former college roommate watched the HBO series, I snootily turned my nose up at it.

“The books are so much better,” my little brother told me.

“Yeah. But it’s fantasy…” I demurred.

Long-running series about magic & mystical creatures, and I don’t get on well.

It was ok when my daughter was a child and read to us her beloved Harry Potter series. Book 1 was good, 2 was similar. 3 was more of the same. Finally, at book 4, I couldn’t take any more about Quidditch or Dumbledore’s twinkling eyes and tapped out.

The less I say about Tolkein’s much-loved Lord of the Rings series, the better. I don’t want virtual tomatoes tossed at me over the internet. I’m more of a Robert E. Howard kind of gal. I like my fantasy to be more based on sword and sorcery, short, and with an ending in sight.

Pleasantly Surprised

I don’t recall why, perhaps it was Audible credits, but I decided to give A Game of Thrones a try. I was expecting dreck, but Martin’s penchant for floral descriptions and extreme violence pleasantly surprised me. I created a Goodreads shelf just for that topic.

I began listening to the amazing Roy Dotrice narration on Audible, but I got so interested in the tale, I bought the book, too.

At first, names like Aerys, Arryn, Eyrie blended together. So many places, characters, and settings, and they all sounded alike or were weird to my ears. That’s one of the reasons I never really tried reading the fantasy genre. If I’m going to have to know the names of Kings & Queens and faraway lands, I’d rather use my ever-diminishing brain capacity to store actual historical information.

As I read on, the novel fascinated me more. With so many characters, I found some I loved, others I detested. Sansa and Catelyn were the absolute worst. I could give or take Arya. But Daenerys, Eddard & Tyrion were amazing.

The build-up took a long time, and for a while, I felt the book’s theme was “Hurry up and wait.” But the last third was a thrilling conclusion and made me truly enjoy this epic story.

Opinion

Maybe, I’ll read up to book three, although I kind of doubt I will. Martin’s never going to finish the series, and reading thousands upon thousands of pages with no grand payoff is akin to masturbating for hours and not coming to completion. Sorry, that’s vulgar, but it’s how I feel about book series with no end in sight.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, Broadway Books, 2012

Spoiler Alert ⚠

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book – Gone Girl

July 2013 was a difficult month.

I had ordered Gone Girl for beach reading on a very rare family vacation. I hadn’t been out of the country for 12 years and was looking forward to it. The book didn’t arrive in time, so I lay in the sun for hours without a summer blockbuster to enjoy. While the food, beaches, and people of Nassau were wonderful, due to various reasons I came back from the trip in bad spirits. And there, waiting in my mailbox was Gone Girl, a work of fiction to befriend me in my time of illness and self-pity. It became a twisted friend, one that fed upon my sickness and bad feelings.

Spending so much time in the heat was not the smartest thing to do for someone with lupus. A massive flare-up occurred, with a fever registering at 105.5˚F. Much worse, despite the many visits to the vet, my sweet little English bull terrier was suffering from a terminal illness. I couldn’t move out of bed to care for her properly. Plus, there were family matters to deal with that were unsettling. (In retrospect, those issues were trivial, but being sick with my beloved doggie dying didn’t make for rational thoughts). I was angry at everything: my body, my family, and the vets. I couldn’t do anything but lie there a dizzying fog, where occasional moments of lucidity and strength allowed me to flip the pages and read.

Gone Girl fed that dark place inside me with even more darkness. At the time, I was not in a state to process it in the right perspective.

The plot appears simple. A wife goes missing. The clues left behind can mean only one thing: someone killed her. The person most likely to have done it was the husband, Nick. A media firestorm ensues as the search for wife Amy leads to startling revelations about a seemingly perfect marriage.

Alternating with Nick’s narration are entries from the Amy’s diary, giving us an insight into the marriage before the disappearance. We are fed little bits of information, piece by piece at a time, molding the reader’s opinion like potter’s clay. Then events then take an odd turn and we see our perspective has been skewed all along. What we are told is not always true. Gillian Flynn created a warped, revolting world about two people so horrible that they destroyed everything in their path because they were selfish fucks.

Which horrible person do we root for? The side you pick may say something about you, something disturbing.

I’m ok with that. No doubt about it, I’m on Team Disturbed.

Here Be Spoilers & Rants

First of all I loved Amy. I know she is a horrible person and in real life I would run away from anyone who was 1/10th as crazy as she was. But as a character, she had me rooting for her 100%. Yeah, she was evil, but so is Hannibal Lecter and readers, moviegoers, and TV-watchers root for him. Why doesn’t Amy get any love? Those wheels in her mechanical brain were always turning. Even when things didn’t work out as planned, she always kept rolling and going on to something new. What she did to Nick was a wicked thing, to set him up for her murder, hoping he’d get the death penalty. Regardless, it was she who drew me into the story, not Nick.

I am satisfied that at she got her “happy” ending, as messed up as it was. If you watched “Breaking Bad” and loved Walter White even at his most evil, then you might find Amy sympathetic. Then again, maybe not. One could argue Walter had legitimate reasons to down a dark path, although it was his ego that kept him on it. Amy was always ego, a broken human being who wasn’t truly a person, just whatever persona she decided to put on. God, I loved her.

On the other hand, I loathed Nick. I hated his fake good guy identity. He was a liar, a thief, and a cheat. If Amy was a sociopath, Nick was a narcissist. He walked through life with his good looks and expected women to take care of him. Unlike Amy he did become self-aware and own up to his flaws, but it wasn’t enough to turn him into a good guy hero. Nick was perfectly content to have his sister pick up the slack at work, his wife pay for his bills, and his mistress take care of his sexual and emotional needs. Plus he was dumb, a fatal flaw in a character.

Nick takes his wife’s money to start his dream bar in his sleepy home town, far from their life in New York. He gets do what he wants and live his life while Amy sits home and waits for life to happen. Screw that. He’s no hero.

Then again, Amy’s certainly no heroine.

On the scale of evil, she’s far worse than Nick. Amy is a liar, a psychopath, a stalker, a killer. She frames innocent people for crimes and delights in ruining peoples’ lives. She is beyond redemption. Nick is merely a scummy, mooching adulterer. He pales in comparison.

Despite that, Amy’s entertaining as hell and fun. She’s so crazy that even in my sick haze, I kept reading to see what she would do next. Her “Cool Girl” rant is one off the most enjoyable passages I’ve ever read in modern books. It had me nodding, “Hell yes!”

Opinion of Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn excels at characterization. She never writes about good people. In her books all the people are different levels of suck. You wouldn’t want anything to do with these slimy, twisted characters (Save for Go, Nick’s sister, the only “sinless” character in this book. And the baby, of course!)

Nick and Amy are both the protagonists and antagonists; both are villains in a story with no heroes. Many readers hated the ending, thinking the bad guy got away with it all, but I liked it. It’s a perfectly perverse conclusion for a perverse romance. Although it was a bit rushed (a commonality among Flynn’s endings).

The concept of how people forge intimate bonds with media images of beautiful crime victims while demonizing the suspects is depicted in Gone Girl with perfect, biting satire. Flynn’s books deal with sharp themes on what it means to be a “man” or “woman.” She is by far the most entertaining, insightful, and well-written author of the recent popular-phenom books I’ve read, blowing away those over-praised duds by silly Dan Brown and humorless Stieg Larsson.

Of her three novels so far, Gone Girl is my favorite, which is saying something, as her other two other books, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, were incredible dark reads. I anxiously await Flynn’s next book. It can’t come soon enough!

The Da Vinci Code By Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, Doubleday, 2003

2 Stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Book – The Da Vinci Code

When I was a kid, I adored the Saturday morning cartoon “A Pup Named Scooby-Doo.”

 photo pupnamedscooby.jpg
Remember this ABC Saturday a.m. cartoon, kids? No? Damn, I’m old.

It was my favorite incarnation of Scooby Doo as it was bright, colorful, amusing, and kept me wanting more. While reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, I was reminded of this series, only because I was amazed that a made-for-children animated program had more wit and mystery than this mess of a book. I started to read this and went into a tizzy. What the hell was Brown guy thinking? Did millions of people worldwide truly take this poorly-researched, poorly-written junk seriously?

The plot isn’t complex: Langdon Brown, Harvard professor of Cryptology, or some such nonsense, is in Paris to give a lecture and then meet the overseer of the Louvre. But before Langdon can meet him, the art scholar is killed. Langdon is called by police to go to the Louvre to solve some puzzling clues. A mysterious young beauty, Sophie Neveu, arrives and then Langdon is soon considered the prime suspect of the murder. The two flee from police, while solving “complex” puzzles that lead to more clues.

Meanwhile, in Rome, Bishop Arringarosa, head of the secretive organization, Opus Dei…

The Right Reverend, His Excellency, the Bishop

…has sent his henchman, Silas, a self-flagellating, albino monk who wears brown robes and wraps barbed wire around his thigh so it constantly bleeds (because that’s the kind of guy who blends into a crowd) to make sure a secret regarding the Holy Grail—-one that could destroy the whole Christian faith—-is never revealed.

The book was obviously written with its eye on Hollywood (I haven’t yet seen the movie, and this book doesn’t inspire me to do so). Langdon is referred to looking like “Harrison Ford in Harris tweed” and Dan Brown admittedly wrote the character of Bezu Fache with actor Jean Reno in mind. I enjoy good pulp-fiction, a potboiler that leaves you on the edge of your seat, waiting to know what happens next…but this book was not that kind of read.

For people with ADD/ADHD like me, The Da Vinci Code is split up into short chapters, which should make for easy reading. However, they usually end with nail-biting cliffhangers such as:

“Now, I’ll tell you the rest of the story.”

Or: 

“I can’t drive a stick-shift!”

Dun-Dun! Can you feel the suspense?

Lots of Action: Running and Talking, Driving and Talking, & More Running and Talking!

The pacing is all wrong; the book is 450+ pages long and 90% of the action takes place over 12 hours. Perhaps my definition of a fast-paced novel is different than Brown’s: to me, it’s not one set in a short period of time, but one where a lot of action and suspense occur. Stuff happens here, but mostly it’s just running: Langdon and Sophie escape from the police, they hide though out the Louvre, then drive through the streets of Paris to the countryside to meet a friend, fly to England, hide some more, and skulk their way to another museum, always fleeing from police and bad guys.

All the while, there are a lot of stupid questions asked by supposed code-expert Sophie. Langdon’s long-winded explanations of facts that Sophie should be more than aware of are ham-handedly inserted to enlighten the reader. Thrown in are lots of extemporaneous, long speeches about what this work of art represents plus stupid flashbacks. For example, as they’re pursued by cops, Langdon thinks: “Hmm, this reminds me of the time I was sharing my divine knowledge with prison inmates in a speech about the ambiguous sexuality of the Mona Lisa. She’s really a dude. That blew the their minds. I’m so smart, heh-heh.”

There is another flashback where Landon describes the Fibonacci code to a class of Harvard students who are shocked and dumbfounded that such a series exists in nature.

Really? A 15 year-old-stoner who’s watched Darren Aranofsky’s misnamed “Pi” knows the relevance of this basic sequence!

There are plenty of other silly ideas, such as Langdon stating that the Greeks used the word Eros as an anagram for rose. But this makes no sense because “Eros” is Greek and “rose” is English or French. In Greek, rose is ρόζα which translates into roughly “rhodon” or “rodon,” and the alphabets are different besides!

Brown claims in the painting The Last Supper there is a disembodied hand holding a knife at Jesus’s back. In every version I’ve seen, it’s Peter who is holding the knife. (Ok, some art historians claim that it was added in a restoration of Leonardo’s work, as he was such a master of the human form that it makes little sense to have Peter in such an awkward, unnatural pose.)

But Brown is no religious historian either; his “facts” should in no way be taken as such. He’s an average pulp writer trying to make a controversial book and sell copies, and by hitting those divisive notes he shows himself to be a better salesman/promoter than author.

It’s Just Fiction, Relax…

I realized to take Brown’s errors with a grain of salt as I had a huge epiphany about halfway through this book. In a startling revelation, Langdon points to his Mickey Mouse watch and discloses that Walt Disney, like numerous notable historical figures, was one of the keepers the Holy Grail’s secret. Many of his films were filled with hidden “Easter Eggs,” such as the “The Little Mermaid” where Ariel’s red hair makes her a perfect match for Mary Magdalene!

And I finally got it, slapped myself on the forehead, and exclaimed, “D’oh!”

Dan Brown is screwing with the reader and had a jolly old time laughing his way to the bank.

Like the—ahem—History Channel’s program “Ancient Aliens,” he throws so much crap and conjecture that some might figure, well, even if 1% of what’s said is true, then this changes everything! We are through the looking glass, people!

Dan is both a hack and a genius! What’s more he made himself known as a “preeminent” author and made a ton of cash!

Thankfully, I got this e-book for free.

Opinion of The Da Vinci Code

As long as I’m entertained, I can tolerate a silly plot. For me, the Da Vinci Code started out as horrible, then mildly irritating, then unintentionally quasi-hilarious.

If you want to find something amusing that skewers sacred cows, I suggest watching the South Park’s “Fantastic Easter Special” episode, which was snot-flying-from-the-nose-hysterical and revealed the Catholic Church’s true secret:

 photo truepope.jpg
Papa Lepus

If you want a nail-biting action-thriller, look elsewhere; as far as I’m concerned Sidney Sheldon’s reputation as “The Master Storyteller” is still safe. If you want to search religious or artistic truth, seek non-fiction, documented sources. Brown might claim his facts are so, but some simple research will show otherwise.

Far from being the engaging blockbuster that I had heard, I found The Da Vinci Code to be an unremarkable let-down filled with flat characters and silly “twists.” Christians of all stripes, Gnostics, atheists, agnostics, historians, lovers of art, readers who enjoy characterization or fast-paced thrillers or even mildly entertaining books, all these people should be offended, because if you’re paying good money for an appealing story, this isn’t it. But like I said, I got it for free, so there’s that.

This was a frustrating read, but it wasn’t so boring that I hated this thing. That’s a positive, I suppose.

The Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille

The Story of the Eye, Georges Bataille, City Lights Publishers, 1928

Extreme seductiveness is at the boundary of horror.

THE EYE

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Carnality Beyond Sex

Written in 1928 and denounced as blasphemous, The Story of the Eye by French author Georges Bataille, straddles the line between horror and sex in a manner that would offend most readers, both 100 years in the past and in today’s modern era.

Although I devour trashy reads from horror to pulp to romance, I am not a fan of erotica. A vanilla erotic romance is ok, but pure pornography rarely moves me in a sensual manner. I was bored senseless by Anne Rice’s forays into erotica. It’s always the same repetitive theatrics in these books: sex in this orifice, sex in that orifice, put this object into this orifice, place that object into that orifice.

What is erotic to me in books, be it literature or trash, has always been the anticipation, the desire for the act, not the technical description of the act itself.

Books with no plot, just sex, remind me of a scene from “The Golden Girls”:

Rose: I hate to admit it, but my relationship with Miles is really getting boring. We even make love the same.
Blanche: How?
Rose: Well, first he says, “Let’s go watch TV in the bedroom.” And then I think, “Wait, he doesn’t have a TV in the bedroom.” And then he says, “Come lie down. I won’t try anything.” And then we have four hours of the most boring sex you’ve ever had in your life.
Blanche: Four hours?
Rose: I guess it could take less if I stopped playing hard to get.

THE GOLDEN GIRLS

The Depths of Depravity

While Georges Bataille’s The Story of the Eye is hardly sexually arousing, it was such a visceral work it was capable of creating deep emotions within me, whereas pure erotica bores me. Ok, the emotions were not arousal or lust, but revulsion, disgust, pity, rage, and yes, a bit of awe at the writing (which must be incredible in its original French.)

These are contemptible, loathsome people engaging in the most depraved acts. The perversity here can only lead to insanity, imprisonment, or death.

If Clive Barker was influenced by this short work, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s easy to imagine the Cenobites’ from the Hellraiser films delighting in the blood-and-urine-soaked orgies these twisted characters engage in.

The eroticism of the human eye plays a prominent, profanely obscene role throughout the novel. A woman comes to orgasm upon seeing a man being gored by a bull, the man’s eye impaled by the horn. Later, she sits upon a plate of said bull’s testicles, her vulva bare, and exalts in delight.

Orgies, necrophilia, madness, mayhem, and murder follow the main couple as they take part in one perverse adventure after another.

To others, the universe seems decent because decent people have gelded eyes. That is why they fear lewdness. They are never frightened by the crowing of a rooster or when strolling under a starry heaven. In general, people savour the “pleasures of the flesh” only on condition that they be insipid.

THE EYE

Opinion of The Story of the Eye

This book is disgusting, nihilistic filth. However, it has no pretensions of being erotic. The Story of the Eye  is designed to engage the senses in an offensive way. It is transgressive, postmodernism, and being so, I should have detested this. However I found this to be a more honest piece of writing than many other books I’ve come upon. 

The Story of the Eye is a fascinating psychological study and more so on a metaphysical level. The author was an anti-religionist; even so, spiritual questions arise. Are these characters demonically possessed? Insane? Sane in a crazed world?

Bataille’s writing “transcends” erotica. There is literary merit to his art. It is up to the reader to decide what meaning to attribute to this tale, or if indeed, there is any meaning to it all.

The Dirty Parts of the Bible by Sam Torode

The Dirty Parts of the Bible, Sam Torode, Book Surge Publishing, 2007

“You’ve got to sin before you can be redeemed. A man might as well enjoy it.”

THE DIRTY PARTS OF THE BIBLE

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book – The Dirty Parts of the Bible

The Dirty Parts of the Bible by Sam Torode is a loose retelling of “The Book of Tobit” from the Catholic/Orthodox Deuterocanonical books of the Bible. It’s a cutesy story about a 1930’s Baptist preacher’s son, Tobias Henry, a devout atheist.

Well, he’s not a total unbeliever, admitting: 

“Whenever I feared I was in imminent danger of death, I’d call on Jesus and beg for salvation. The rest of the time, I didn’t give him any thought. Jesus was like an insurance policy against eternal fire.”

This is a sweet, whimsical tale, full of little dabs of brilliance.

A Religious and Romantic Journey

After his father is blinded after a bird shits into his eyes, Tobias leaves home to follow his father’s exhortations to seek out and regain the family’s “fortune” & honor. Tobias rides the rails from Michigan to Texas. Along the way, he gets screwed by hookers whom, lamentably, he doesn’t get to screw.

Along the way, there’s a hobo named Craw, who’s full of St Augustinian insights like:

“Don’t get old. When I was your age, all I thought about was girls. When I was forty, all I thought about was money. These days, all I ask for is a good shit once a week.” 

All while subsisting on “sonuvabitch” opossum stew.

In Texas, Tobias meets Sarah, a tough, gun-toting farm girl, whom he falls for. Sarah is unique to Tobias, unlike anyone he’s ever known.

“Sarah might not have been pretty in the usual way, but it was her little quirks that got to me. Her freckles, pointy eyebrows, the fine, downy hairs on her arms, the way she smelled. Other girls powdered over their skin, plucked their hairs, perfumed their hair. Sarah was a wild rose—graceful without trying, beautiful without knowing it. Whether it was love, lust, or just the effects of beer and a wine-colored dress, I didn’t know. But I was smitten.”

Unfortunately, the love of his life is a “durn Cathylick.” Through his relationship with Craw and his love of Sarah, he becomes more accepting to understand different religious perspectives and as he opens his mind, his heart opens to love.

God is Love

Has Tobias been looking for God in all the wrong places? Has he been so stuck on deconstructing fables that he’s missed out on experiencing something truly sacred here on Earth?

Craw tells him bluntly:

“..,[T]he point is, every woman is a vessel of beauty, life, and love—though most don’t know it. And all the forces of evil in the world are dead-set against her. That’s why loving a woman is the hardest battle you’ll ever face. Love isn’t going to fall into your lap—you’ve got to fight for it.”

Tobias discovers that God is found in the holiest of places, with the one you love. With Sarah he is complete.

While this book tackles one of life’s most controversial mysteries, religion, it’s an accessible read for anyone looking for a short, humorous slice of Americana.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins, Riverhead, 2015

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

2.5 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Book – The Girl on the Train

Everyone at some point in their life has fallen into despair. Perhaps we have all experienced a moment where we want to lapse into oblivion and forget everything awful that ever occurred. When there is no hope, there can only be a dark, deadly, void.

From the moment I picked up Paulina Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, the main character intrigued me. Here is a woman, Rachel, an alcoholic divorcee, unemployed and unable to have children. She is prone to blackouts and has deep psychological issues. Her husband, Tom, left her for sexy Anna, a younger woman, with whom he has a baby. Now the new happy couple lives in Rachel’s old house, a house she passes every day as rides the train into London, to a job which she no longer has.

Just a few houses down from her old home lives another couple: a young, beautiful pair, into whom Rachel puts all her feelings of hope. Now here is a truly happy couple. She doesn’t know their names, so she builds a life for them in her own head: a perfect life, calling them Jess and Jason.

But then Jess goes missing. Where did she go? What happened?

Little by little, ugly truths are revealed. Jess’s real name is Megan and her husband’s is Scott. Everyone in the book is a suspect, especially Scott, Rachel, and even a ham-handedly placed “red-herring.”

An Imitation of a Better Book?

This book has been compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and it should, for there are similarities.

–The word “Girl” is in the title.

–A supposedly perfect married couple and a blonde, possibly pregnant, wife goes missing and the husband is accused.

–There are crime groupies (In this case, it’s the main character).

–Use of first-person-present tense and unreliable narration that alternates from character to character to add a sense of confusion.

–A supposed critique of upper-middle-class marriages.

But while Flynn’s writing is gleefully over-the-top, her characterization rapier-sharp and spot on, The Girl on the Train is self-indulgently mopey. At first I felt so bad for Rachel, a woman callously screwed over by life. But does she shake herself off, say “Eff you haters!” and make things better for herself? No. She just whines and drinks and sulks. And while she has every reason to be angry with life, at a certain point it’s just too much! She makes for a very unlikeable character, and not in a good way.

That is the major difference between Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. While Amy is irrefutably an evil, messed-up person, she takes control. Shit happened to her, but she is no victim. She will rule her life by any means necessary. Psycho stuff, for sure, but hell of an entertaining read. Perhaps Amy is not the perfect ideal of feminism, but she is a not someone who lets people screw her over. Rachel is just a sad-sack of misery, she should have just left town and moved on. I’m not an encourager of suicide, and Rachel was leading down that path, so it’s no fun to watch.

Weak Female Characters

Actually, in “The Girl on the Train” every woman is just there, saying, “Woe-is me! There’s nothing I can do about life, but pout and pine or do really stupid things and make it worse.”

Woman A: “My life sucks. It’s my ex-husband’s fault. Why did he make me so unhappy?”

Woman B: “My life sucks. It’s my husband’s fault. Why can’t he make me happy?”

Woman C: “My life is starting to suck. I’ll wait for my husband to do something about it and if he doesn’t, then I will…Maybe. But I’ll give him lots of chances first.”

The one character I felt awful for was Scott, the missing girl’s husband. 

If male-imposed misogyny was the theme of this book, then it failed. There was only one male who was a real woman-hater in this. The rest of the women-haters were the women themselves.

This book was popular enough with readers to become a motion picture.

I was conflicted about it. The ending is a major reason why.

Spoilers Ahead

The first half of this book is quite entertaining, with the plot zig-zagging and coiling to keep you guessing. But halfway through, the first mystery is revealed, and now instead of wondering what happened, it’s all about who did it.

I expected a twisted, dark ending, something on a par with Susanna Moore’s In the Cut. After a month of reading Agatha Christie, I was in the mood for a modern murder mystery with shocking revelations.

However, the ending was so predictable. The villain just sits there and does that “Let me tell you what I did and exactly how I did it” routine that just annoys me.

The crime is “solved” and the killer is dispatched.

I thought it would have been a perfect set up to have Rachel sent to prison for Megan’s murder. There Rachel is, standing before a stopped train that is filled with bored commuters looking on as she stabs her ex-husband in the neck in front of his shocked wife.

The way Anna was written, it would have made sense if she accused Rachel of being the killer. Anna had tons of documentation of Rachel’s drunken harassment and stalking. With a little bit of ingenuity, the real killer would have gotten away with it, albeit still dead. And poor Rachel would have suffered the consequences. Now that would have been an ending. 

Opinion of Girl on the Train

I listened to this mostly on audio while also reading it on the Kindle. Perhaps it was the soothing British accents that made this book tolerable instead of a wall banger. It’s one of those bestsellers that everyone is reading, and might even be a major motion picture in a couple of years.

To a certain extent I liked it, at least the premise, but there were many problems with the execution, so it’s a mixed rating.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (A Short Novel and Three Stories), Truman Capote, Modern Library, 1958

“She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes.”

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

2 Stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Book – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (A Short Novel and Three Stories)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is actually Truman Capote’s collection of one novella and three short stories. As such, the book should be rated for all tales included, which were underwhelming. Over the years, I’ve lost my tolerance for pretentious writing, and despite Capote’s earthiness, never once did I shake that feeling of pretentiousness.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Here, a young writer looks back on the year or so when he lived near and loved a girl named Holly Golightly. Holly’s a beauty who runs around with wealthy men so they can take proper care of her.

The unnamed narrator whom Holly refers to as “Fred” (that’s her brother’s name, so Holly has clearly defined what kind of relationship they have, whatever his ambiguous sexuality may be) admits to loving Holly numerous times, but it’s not so much an erotic love as one filled with worship. “Fred” thinks to himself: “As I read each glimpse I stole of Holly made my heart contract.” Holly bathes naked in front of him, calls him “Maude” (I suppose “Nellie” would have been rude?). and the narrator readily admits to having been in love with women, men, and once an entire family. Here everyone’s sexuality is fluid; it’s all a matter of price.

On to the story. Really, there’s very little of it. Holly gets paid for her company, wears sunglasses indoors, and speaks French to impress. The players include an array of millionaires, models, wealthy diplomats, and mobsters. What a bunch of poser and phonies they all are. Oh, but Holly is a special type of phony, as one character says: “She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes.”

Holly Golightly is the forbear of the women of reality TV, fake, pretentious, and avaricious. She’s a good-time girl who insinuates she might dole out intimate favors for some cash, but most of the time pats her man on the cheek with a platonic “Goodnight, darling.” Capote himself wrote that Holly was “a modern-day Geisha.” No need to wrap it up in fancy euphemisms. I’d prefer a “prostitute” who’s honest with herself about who she is and what she does. Contrary to what Capote wrote, Holly is never honest with herself.

I don’t care if Hollywood toned down the story and made it into a sappy romance; at least that movie was charming.

Also, there’s a lot of rough talk that could be viewed in the modern perspective as hateful and loathsome. I can imagine shocked readers of “The New Yorker” (where the novella was originally published) being titillated by the sexual and racial references. I personally do not view 60-year-old works through a modern lens so I didn’t give a crap. The vulgar flavor bored me. Overlook the vulgarity and there’s not much else there.

2.5 stars, but I’ll be generous and add an extra half star for Cat who’s the best character in the whole novella and deserved better than that phony’s phony, Holly Golightly.

House of Flowers

This was notable for its Haitian setting, but not much else. A beautiful prostitute in Port-Au-Prince named Ottilie ditches her lifestyle after she meets her “one true love,” a handsome country boy. Capote really had an obsession with “hookers” didn’t he?

Ottilie moves in with him and his mother, who watches them have sex at night, brings Ottilie little gifts like a severed cat’s head in a box. Ottilie pays her mother-in-law back by serving those gifts as meals until mom-in-law suddenly drops dead.

The ending is odd because you don’t know if the mother’s ghost gets her revenge or if everybody in this story is mentally deranged.

Either way, 2 stars.

A Diamond Guitar

The most pointless tale in a book filled with pointless tales. An old man spending life in prison for murder laments the loss of his one true friend: a young, blond Cuban boy who was allowed to enter prison with diamond guitar. Mr. Schaeffer, the protagonist, is a decent enough sort–for a murderer—while the boy, Tico Feo, just uses his looks to get the old guy to do his bidding and fall for him. “Except that they did not combine their bodies or think to do so, though such things were not unknown at the farm, they were as lovers.

Tico Feo convinces Mr. Schaeffer to try to escape. Tico Feo gets away, but the old man doesn’t. He spends his remaining years caring for the guitar and feeling lots of pain and yearning.

Oh, the pain…and the yearning…the yearning…

Some yearn, others constantly crave.

1 star for this dud.

A Christmas Memory

This was just as plotless as all the other stories, but at least it’s the sweetest.

A 7-year-old boy bonds with his elderly cousin whom he refers to as his friend. Every Christmas, they make an elaborate fruit cake they send to only special recipients, like the President, or some missionaries, or a nice couple whose car once broke down near their home. Though they are very poor they work hard to make 30 exotic fruit cakes. They collect fallen pecans; kill flies for cash, barter with illegal alcohol vendors. Their time spent together is a magical one. Then the young boy is sent off to military school and the halcyon days come to an end.

3 stars just because it was so sweet.

Final Opinion

I found this compilation of short stories to be unimpressive. I understand modern literary writers are fond of character studies, not plot-driven tales, but if the characters are uninteresting then who cares? I didn’t.

I’m making myself read more literature, modern and classic, but this short anthology did not make me gaga for Capote. I’m hoping In Cold Blood is a better reflection of his talent.

2 stars overall for the entire collection.

Seven Noble Knights by J.K. Knauss

Seven Noble Knights, J.K. Knauss, Amazon Kindle, 2016

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Wow, what an amazing, emotional ride! I love when my personal tastes synch so well with a novel.

The Book – Seven Noble Knights

Seven Noble Knights by J.K. Knauss is historical fiction done right. Based on an old Spanish legend, this book takes the reader back to 10th-century Hispania, a land divided among different cultures, Christians to the North and a Muslim Empire to the South. Much bloodshed and calamity occur and many years later, a hero arises to avenge family honor.

In the County of Castile, the seven sons of Gonzalez Gustioz are known as the bravest, strongest, most noble knights in all of Christendom. The story begins as the knights fight under their uncle Ruy Blasquez to capture enemy territory. We are introduced to Gonzalo, the youngest of the brothers, impetuous, yet honorable. Although an omniscient narrator takes us inside the heads of multiple characters throughout the book, it’s from his perspective that much of the first portion of the story is told.

As a reward for taking the castle, the older, grizzled Ruy is gifted with a beautiful, young noblewoman, Dona Lambra, to marry. Lambra, however, resents this union, as she had wanted to marry her handsome and arrogant cousin. She is a cunning, spiteful creature and although the reader is never placed directly in Lambra’s head, it’s plain to see her evil personality behind the beautiful face.

A violent tragedy ensues at the wedding due to Gonzalo’s hotheadedness and Lambra calls for justice, which is promptly given by the Count. However, it’s not enough for Lambra, who plots all-out revenge against the Gonzalez family and their seven sons.

As I read the book, I was kept anxious, knowing what was going to happen, but hoping, in vain, that it wouldn’t. My eyes were glued to the pages and I kept blowing off my responsibilities so I could finish each chapter. “Just one more chapter,” I’d tell myself, ignoring the growing piles of laundry I had to fold and dishes in the sink.

The story is set in both the dusty, plains of Castile and the beautiful paradise that was Al-Andalus. Both people of those lands have their codes of honor that they value greatly. From the Muslim caliphate, there will come a champion to enact vengeance against the ones who harmed the Gonzalez family.

Here, in the second portion of the book, we meet Mudarra, nephew of the great chamberlain of Cordoba. Mudarra is youthful and lives an idyllic life. Is he up to the great challenge before him? Can he commit to his plan when so many roadblocks seem to fall in his way? Does destiny await?

My Opinion

A few times when reading historical fiction, I get the notion that some authors don’t like nor respect the people or the time period they’re writing about. Or, they infuse their contemporary beliefs into what or whom they write. Not here in Seven Noble Knights. These characters felt wholly authentic, a people of their times. Yes, the story does have some fantastical elements in it and reads like an ancient fairytale, but the individuals feel like real people. The villains are villains, but we can understand why. The heroes are imperfect, yet are committed to doing what they must. The side characters are more than just placeholders, they’re people with wants and desires beyond the plot.

If you enjoy historical books that actually transport you back to previous times, with genuine characters that make you believe you are living their story, I heartily recommend Seven Noble Knights. It’s a shame this book has just a few reviews and ratings because it really is a fantastic work of historical fiction.