Monday, October 29, 2012

My thoughts on: Cold Light

It's happened again. I have to write a post about a book I didn't like. The premise of Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth was great, but for me the overall execution just wasn't my taste. I also did not finish the book. I was about to start chapter 14, and just thought to myself, "do I really want to finish this?" If I'm forcing myself to read a certain book, is it really worth it to finish? For me to read a book in its entirety, the book has to hold my attention from start to finish. I kept waiting for the suspense, and it just wasn't there for me.

Two 14-year-old girls, best friends, and one tragic event change their lives. One is murdered and the other is in turmoil. I was definitely intrigued. Chloe is the typical popular girl at school. People always want to be around her. People want to be like her, but know they can't. Whenever Chloe opens her mother, people latch onto the words coming out of her mouth like she is a celebrity.  She acts like nothing phases her. Being around Chloe is a welcome distraction for her best friend Lola. Even though a lot of their friendly exchanges occur while Chloe is shoplifting at the local mall, Lola still values their friendship. At home, Lola feels suffocated by her odd-ball parents, Barbara and Donald. Rarely does she call them mom and dad. Lola spends more time trying to avoid them. Donald is consumed by his various science projects. Barbara would rather he focus his attention elsewhere. As long as they're not focusing on Lola, she can tolerate life at home.

Chloe didn't seem like much of a friend to me. Chloe is only Lola's friend when it's convenient. She wants to hang out with Lola, but only if Chloe's boyfriend Carl is around. She confides in Lola, but only if she can get her full attention. If it looks like Lola isn't concerned, Chloe will lay a guilt trip on her. She's not really her friend if she doesn't pay attention completely. When Lola isn't around she turns to Emma, another girl their age. Is Emma the replacement friend? Does Chloe actually like Emma or does she like using her to make Lola jealous? Chloe was just a straight up mean girl.

Right off the bat, Jenn Ashworth lets you know who is murdered. Chloe is dead when the book opens, and I don't think that's spoiling anything by saying so. I like that the author got to the mystery right away, but after just a few pages I was confused. The words on the pages seemed to be a mashup of the character's thoughts. The thoughts also seemed very random. It took me awhile to connect the dots. I didn't realize right away that the chapters alternate between the past and the present. Lola seemed so sullen in the past and present, I didn't have a good grasp on the timeline right away. The writing style takes some getting used to. I also kept waiting to find out how and why Chloe died. I was waiting for the thrilling and suspenseful part of the book, but it just wasn't there for me. This seemed more like a book about teenage angst.

Rating: Meh (based on what I did read)

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Brightness of Heaven

In the mood to take in a show? Then give The Brightness of Heaven by Laura Pedersen a try!!



Manhattan Repertory Theatre, in association with DeVida Jenkins on behalf
of the Villar-Hauser Theatre Development Fund present:

The Brightness of Heaven by Laura Pedersen

Heaven is billed as being a magnificent place.  However, entrance to Heaven is conditional upon having lived a “good life.”  But what happens when so much emphasis is placed on the afterlife that the current one becomes a prison, and young people start to feel that their choices are being limited by parents wielding a rulebook that came from a supernatural source.  The Kilgannon family struggles to stay together as their views on how to conduct their lives diverge.  Is it worth destroying your closest relationships over something you can’t even be sure of?

Performance location/times:

Manhattan Repertory Theatre
303 West 42nd Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY

Thursday, November 1 @ 9pm
Friday, November 2 @ 9pm
Saturday, November 3 @ 3pm

Tickets can be reserved by emailing MRTreserve@gmail.com. More information: http://manhattanrep.com/page65/page65.html

ABOUT LAURA PEDERSEN

Laura Pedersen, who lives in Manhattan, was a columnist for The New York Times and is the author of several best-selling books including Beginner’s Luck, Buffalo Gal and most recently, Planes, Trains, and Auto-Rickshaws. Her previous play, A Dozen Perfect Moments, was performed at the 2012 Midtown International Theatre Festival. In 1994 President Clinton honored Pedersen as one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans. Pedersen has appeared on shows such as CNN, Oprah, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Primetime and David Letterman.

Additional information about The Brightness of Heaven and Laura Pedersen can also be found at:
http://brightnessofheaven.weebly.com/
https://www.facebook.com/BrightnessOfHeaven
http://www.laurapedersenbooks.com

Please welcome Laura Pedersen

Laura Pedersen author of several books, including Buffalo Unbound stops by for a Q&A session. Thanks to Wiley Saichek from Authors On The Web for providing the information.


Q: Describe Laura Pedersen in two or three sentences.

A: If you were casting for an only child who is left-handed, from a contentious broken home, and raised during a terrible recession, with all the stereotypical characteristics that individual might have acquired, I’m probably a good fit.  Otherwise, I prefer Rollerblading to ice skating because the rinks are crowded and you mostly go in a circle.

Q: You are best-known as a novelist and memoirist. What made you decide to give plays a try? How did you go about getting your first play, A Dozen Perfect Moments, produced? What advice do you have for aspiring playwrights?

A: I’ve always loved the theater.  My dad took me to see Sandy Duncan as Peter Pan at Buffalo’s Studio Arena and also to watch Robert Goulet in Camelot and Yul Brynner in The King and I at Shea’s.  Buffalo has always had a terrific arts scene.  All four years of high school I was the assistant director and prompter for the musical.  It’s always been a big deal for locals that Michael Bennett, the creator of A Chorus Line, was from Buffalo— “I thought about killing myself, but then I realized to commit suicide in Buffalo is redundant."

Submitting to play festivals worked for me.  The theater is there, everything is organized, they advertise, and so all I had to worry about was the play.  Preparing for the Festival creates a wonderful workshop experience and also an opportunity to invite potential backers.  We’re hoping to eventually transfer The Brightness of Heaven to Off Broadway.

Q: How does it feel to actually see lines you wrote being performed on stage?

A: It was odd to hear the dialogue spoken at first.  I’ve written for comedians so I’m used to playing lines in my head and then hearing them from the stage, but this was different.  I’m surprised by what gets the biggest laugh from the audience and also by some of the interesting choices the actors make.  I usually know how a comedian will deliver jokes.  If I have to stand up and do comedy I can make it work but I will NEVER get on stage and act.  Do you hear that women in the play—if you’re sick on opening night tear up my number!

Q: Tell us a bit about The Brightness of Heaven.

A: The play considers the choices we make in deciding how to approach our lives—whether to go to college, get married, have children, move away, and so forth.  The sticky part can be if you or your parents have signed up for a strict program, such as Catholicism, which already has a set of rules to live by.  However, it can be easier to have a set of guidelines in place since choices are often hard and carry great responsibility. I think the same can be said of democracy in that the more freedom we want, the more responsibility we have as individuals, and that’s harder than just allowing a group of people to run things.

Q: You have had experience writing about Buffalo's history and culture in prose with your nonfiction books Buffalo Gal and Buffalo Unbound --- what were the challenges of bringing 1970s Buffalo to life as a play?

A: Buffalo is the second largest city in New York State, and had over 300,000 people living there in the 1970s, so I don’t want to generalize.  There was an enormous ethnic mix and despite the large working class, a group of people who lived well, having made enormous fortunes from Prohibition and industrialization. I took a slice of lower middle class Irish Catholic life that would be familiar to almost all who ever lived there.  The area was 75% Catholic when I was growing up.

Q: What do your Buffalo friends think of the play?

A: My Buffalo friends are excited to see the play.  They’ve had similar experiences to the ones that will be on the stage, for better or worse.  They’re also happy that someone is writing about the Rust Belt in the 1970s since they’ve seen lots of 1960s documentation along with plenty of entertainment set in California and would like to watch their experiences reflected for a change.  Not many movies and TV shows, even today, feature heavy snow removal equipment and certainly not ski masks, unless there’s a murder.

Q: The Brightness of Heaven explores a number of issues that can create turmoil among family members, including religion, sexuality and opposing views on abortion. Is the play autobiographical? Did you know families who were coming to terms with these issues when you lived in Buffalo?

A: There was a church every few blocks and nuns coming around every corner.  The fact that I was an only child with divorced parents made me an alien in my neighborhood.  It was largely Irish Catholic and Polish Catholic with a few Jewish families thrown into the mix.  My best friend Mary Pyne was the youngest of nine children and I spent much of my time at her house trying to avoid head injuries from all the roughhousing.  Down the street from Mary’s house the Rudewiczes had sixteen kids.  No one even knew how many were inside the Gunderman home.  It was impossible to get a count.

Q: A character in The Brightness of Heaven is proudly "out," much to the dismay of his mother and aunt. At the same time several other characters do not share the same religious convictions as fellow family members. What advice do you have for teens or 20 somethings who may be facing the same situation, be it sexuality or religious attitudes --- or both?

A: A lot of folk are going through the same thing and I think it’s important to reach out for support and compare notes.  When it comes to sexuality there’s the It Gets Better Project online where people offer video testimonials about their experiences.  With regard to religion, there are groups organized around whatever you’re for or against, even if it’s nothing at all.  Explore, connect, experience.

Q: What made you decide you had to write The Brightness of Heaven? Did you envision the story as a play from the start, or did you first plan to write a novel?

A: I’ve always wanted this particular story to be a play.  I think it requires the immediacy of the stage and the veracity of live performance.  You can’t hit the pause button or fast forward.  You can’t step away from the characters and their feelings.

Q: Viewers/readers may or may not know that you are a lifelong Unitarian Universalist. How has your faith informed your work as a writer?
A: Being born and raised Unitarian Universalist was the icing on the alien cake during my childhood.  As if my not having siblings and the divorce didn’t make things bizarre enough I constantly heard “What’s that?”  Being UU has given me the freedom to think and dismantle the world like a giant clock to try and determine how it works.  I rarely heard the word “No” growing up.  There was a certain amount of “You did what?”

Q: A play does not come to life without a great cast and crew. Can you give us a brief introduction to the gang?

A: The cast and crew are superb.  There’s no weak link.  And I owe all that to our director, Ludovica Villar-Hauser, and her accomplished assistant director, Judy Binus.  In addition to how well the roles are cast, the group works incredibly well as a family, which I find amazing since we’re like the United Nations offstage—we have a Southerner, an Austrian, an Australian, a Spanish-British concoction, and a Canadian.  Ages range from about twenty to seventy.  The crew contains some wonderfully talented young women and I’m thrilled that they’re able to find training opportunities which may not have been available to the distaff half twenty or thirty years ago.

Q: Please share what you are working on now.

A: I’m finishing a one-act play called Living Arrangements. It’s a comedy about relationships in modern times where the Internet and Madison Avenue seem to be constantly telling everyone that they can do better, resulting in much dissatisfaction all around.

ABOUT THE BRIGHTNESS OF HEAVEN


Manhattan Repertory Theatre, in association with DeVida Jenkins on behalf
of the Villar-Hauser Theatre Development Fund present:

The Brightness of Heaven by Laura Pedersen

Heaven is billed as being a magnificent place.  However, entrance to Heaven is conditional upon having lived a “good life.”  But what happens when so much emphasis is placed on the afterlife that the current one becomes a prison, and young people start to feel that their choices are being limited by parents wielding a rulebook that came from a supernatural source.  The Kilgannon family struggles to stay together as their views on how to conduct their lives diverge.  Is it worth destroying your closest relationships over something you can’t even be sure of?

Performance location/times:

Manhattan Repertory Theatre
303 West 42nd Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY

Thursday, November 1 @ 9pm
Friday, November 2 @ 9pm
Saturday, November 3 @ 3pm

Tickets can be reserved by emailing MRTreserve@gmail.com. More information: http://manhattanrep.com/page65/page65.html

ABOUT LAURA PEDERSEN

Laura Pedersen, who lives in Manhattan, was a columnist for The New York Times and is the author of several best-selling books including Beginner’s Luck, Buffalo Gal and most recently, Planes, Trains, and Auto-Rickshaws. Her previous play, A Dozen Perfect Moments, was performed at the 2012 Midtown International Theatre Festival. In 1994 President Clinton honored Pedersen as one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans. Pedersen has appeared on shows such as CNN, Oprah, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Primetime and David Letterman.

Additional information about The Brightness of Heaven and Laura Pedersen can also be found at:
http://brightnessofheaven.weebly.com/
https://www.facebook.com/BrightnessOfHeaven
http://www.laurapedersenbooks.com

Friday, October 19, 2012

My take on: Things Remembered

Karla Esterbrook is dreading the return to her childhood home. She's not going because she wants to, she's going because she has to. Her grandmother Anna is dying of congestive heart failure. Karla isn't going home to profess her love for her grandmother. She's going to help Anna get her will in order. There's no time to deal with feelings, this visit is purely for practical reasons. But this visit will be more than they bargained for.

Oh, I'm such a sucker for family dramas. I was instantly drawn to Things Remembered by Georgia Bockoven.

Following the death of their parents, Karla and her sisters, Heather and Grace, were raised by Anna. The girls bounce around from relative to relative before they get to Anna because Karla is so resistant to authority. As the oldest, she feels it's her job to protect her sisters. It's hard for Karla to give up control. She doesn't want her sisters to forget their parents. By the time they get to Anna, Karla is a bitter teenager. Nothing Anna does can please Karla. Nothing Anna says will get through to Karla. If she loved Karla's mother so much, why didn't Anna visit more? Why didn't Anna fight to have custody of the girls from the beginning? Heather and Grace grow to love Anna, and she is more like their mother than a grandmother. Deep down Anna knows that Karla loves her, but it's just so hard to crack that shell.

College offered the perfect opportunity for Karla to get out from under Anna's thumb. Her marriage fails, but Karla does becomes a successful businesswoman, owning and operating a coffee shop. Heather is a wife and the mother of two young boys, and is expecting a little girl. Grace has dreams of becoming a big-time actress, but instead spends her time bouncing from audition to audition and borrowing money from Karla and Anna to get by. Heather has her life on track, but will Grace ever grow up? Karla doesn't always know what she should do when it comes to Grace. Does she continue to help Grace? Or does she cut off the gravy train, and force Grace to grow up?

When it's time to get Anna's affairs in order, Karla immediately puts a wall up. Their initial interactions result in arguments. Karla's an adult, but the resentments from her childhood are still there. Anna is determined to get through to Karla. Anna wants Karla to know how much she loves her. They have to talk. They have to talk about the good and the bad, no matter how much it hurts. Anna can't truly rest in peace without clearing the air.

The visit with Anna isn't all gloom and day. Anna and Karla grow to understand each other. Karla even gets a chance at romance with Mark Taylor, a single father. But Karla tries her best to rebuff Mark. Karla doesn't always believe she is worthy of happiness. She has more practical matters, like Anna's health, to worry about. But even Anna wants Karla to make time for herself.

Karla spends so much time being tough, it's hard for her to show vulnerability. It hurts too much to deal with her problems with Anna. But Karla has to open up, otherwise she might not be able to move on. She might regret not having the chance to talk to Anna. It's scary to open herself up to Mark. What if he breaks her heart like her ex-husband? She's afraid of going through that again. This is a very relatable family story. It was an engaging read. The ending is very open-ended. You don't know what the future holds for these characters, but there is an overwhelming sense of hope.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of blog tour with TLC Book Tours

Friday, October 5, 2012

My take on: Butter

"A carton of eggs, an extra-large anchovy pizza, a stack of pancakes, an entire bucket of fried chicken, a package of uncooked hot dogs, one raw onion, a jar of peanut butter, an extra-large box of cookies, an entire meat loaf, a tub of ice cream, and one stick of butter." Doesn't sound very appetizing does it? But this is the proposed last meal of a very confused overweight teen boy. People call him Butter. People make fun of him constantly. His mother adores him, but often tries to comfort him with food. His father barely speaks to him. The girl of his dreams has no idea he exists. And now he can't take it anymore. He is going to do something drastic. He has a plan to end it all. New Year's Eve will be his last day on earth. Everyone can tune in at ButtersLastMeal.com and watch as he eats until his death.

Butter by Erin Jade Lange is like nothing I have ever read -- in a good way. It is very outside of the box.

Butter isn't your typical high school junior. He spends his days trying to be invisible, but it's hard to do when you weigh more than 400 pounds. But in a way, Butter is invisible. He sits alone at lunch. He often spends his days at school wondering if the girl of his dreams, Anna, will notice him. The only person at school who pays him any attention is the band teacher. Butter is a gifted sax musician, but he refuses to show it off despite pleas from the Professor. If he shares his gift for music then people really will take notice of him. They won't care about his music, all people will notice is his weight.

His home life isn't much better. His mother is dedicated to him. She wants him to lose weight, but gets offended when Butter doesn't want her fatty meals. His father is hard to read. Sometimes he seems disgusted by his son, and other times he seems to actually care. But all Butter can see in his father's eyes is disappointment. The only safe haven for Butter is his room. In his room he can belt out beautiful tunes on his saxophone. But the computer is Butter's greatest resource. Online he can be anyone. He can even be a slim, handsome, athlete -- someone even Anna can be attracted to. Anna has never seen the picture of her online boyfriend, but Butter lets her believe in a lie. Online, Anna cares about him and she cares what he thinks. At school, she could care less who Butter is.

No amount of online conversations with Anna can wipeout the humiliation Butter is subjected to by his fellow students. With ButtersLastMeal.com, his fellow students finally take notice of him. But is that a good or a bad thing? To me it was very bad. He becomes the cool kid. He becomes a "legend" around school. He finally has friends, even Anna. Is Anna's interest in him genuine? He isn't quite sure what to believe. The threat of suicide finally makes Butter visible to his fellow students. Are they really his friends? No. A real friend would try to help even if they don't think you're serious. But it's hard for Butter to know who his true friends. Butter isn't even sure he wants to commit suicide. If he goes through with it the kids will know he is serious and they truly will pity him and his family. If he doesn't go through with it, then Butter is just an attention-seeking wimp.

I did find it find it hard to believe that no one took him seriously. Not everyone is that insensitive. In times like these, you don't take a threat like that lightly. Overall, this is an engaging and fresh take on bullying. Not all bullies are created equal. In the case of Butter, bullies can sometimes disguise themselves as friends. Are you wondering if Butter goes through with it? Well you'll just have to read the book to find that out.

Rating: O.M.G.!!

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Bloomsbury) in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Do I need more books? Of course not, but I got them!!


Whenever I hear about a book event, I automatically want to go. But realistically, that doesn't always happen. Some school events I don't get to take part in because I have other commitments. But this last Saturday I had some free time to attend "Hachette Reading Group Day" at the Mid-Manhattan Library.

See that yellow and read cover toward the bottom? Honestly, that book, The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg, was truly the only book I wanted. But want to take a guess how many books I came home with?!?!? Well here it is.....


Yes eight books. They were so hard to resist. Half of the books were in the gift bag and I purchased the other four (at 50% off!!!) from the book store sponsoring the event.

Books:
The Obamas by Jodi Kantor --  (bought) I bought it before finding out it was in the gift bag!! But that's Ok. She signed my copy and I gave the extra one to my mom.
American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar -- (gift bag) He came off as very high brow!! I hope his book isn't like that.
Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff -- (gift bag) Wow. She gave the closing speech, and she was awesome. I was astounded at the amount of time and research she puts into her books. I have to read her books.
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan -- (bought) Survivors of a sunken ship must band together. But the boat is overcrowded and not everyone will make it. I had to buy it.
Forever and a Day by Jill Shalvis -- (gift bag) Her books seem similar to Kristan Higgins and Susan Mallery.
Invisible Boy by Cornelia Read -- (bought/gift bag) I bought it before the gift bags were given out. I'll give the extra one away.
The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg -- (gift bag) A mother is eating herself into an early grave, her husband leaves her and now it's up to her daughter to make dad pay!!
And I Shall Have Some Peace There -- (bought) She gave up her corporate career for life in a small house in upstate New York. She was very engaging, I had to buy her book.

It was a great day. I met several people, including Elizabeth of  Silver's Reviews. It's a small world. When I saw her business card, the blog name seemed so familiar. I knew I had been to her blog before.


Not the greatest photos. I think I have better shots of the lady in front, than of Candace Bushnell behind the podium. I'm a fan of the Sex and the City TV show, but for some reason I've never read that or any of her books for that matter. I bought Lipstick Jungle (on sale for $3!!) two years ago, and it's currently buried in one of my storage bins. Candace was the keynote speaker. She spoke about a lot about her writing process. She doesn't use outlines because she doesn't like to know the ending before writing the book. In her mind, what's the point of writing the book if you already know what happens? If it works for her, great!!


Jami Attenberg, Ayad Akhtar, and Charlotte Rogan headlined the literary panel. Jami and Ayad used a lot of their own personal experiences in their books.


Larissa Ione and Jill Shalvis worked well together on the romance panel. Larissa writes a lot about vampires and werewolves. Jill's books are contemporary romance stories. Larissa's books aren't my cup of tea, but she seems like a cool person to have a conversation with.


I took lots of notes, but as you can see I was a writing machine during the Narrative Non-Fiction and Mystery Genre Panels.


That lone gentleman there is an editor at Little, Brown. In the middle is Jodi Kantor and Margaret Roach during the Narrative Non-Fiction panel. They both spoke so well about their books, I had to buy them before they sold out.


Another editor on the end there, followed by Megan Abbott and Cornelia Read on the Mystery Genre panel. Megan is drawn to mysteries because she knows there is gift waiting at the end -- albeit a dark gift. Cornelia likes discovering why people are cruel and how can they or the situation be made better. I bought Cornelia's book before I knew how much she swears in her books, which is AWESOME!!! I'm not afraid of colorful language or the authors who use it.


Biographer Stacy Schiff closed out the day on a high note. She noted how her own book club has morphed from an actual discussion about books into more of a social gathering to talk about their kids and husbands. She really immerses herself in research, I have to read her books. Happy reading!!
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