Monday, June 25, 2012

CBR IV Review #26 - The Enraged Accompanist's Guide to the Perfect Audition by Andrew Gerle

This a review everyone who isn't a performer can probably skip.  I've studied theater and music most of my life, but every now and then, a guide to something in my profession will strike me as particularly useful or valuable to wherever I am in that moment.  This was one of those finds.  I was a few days out from an audition, and several months out from getting back into the NY scene, when I stumbled across this in the Drama Bookshop in NYC.  Gerle's clever, honest writing really captured me.  I'm not sure I can honestly say he says anything I haven't heard, but he approaches it all in a different way that made it new and interesting for me.

In addition to general advice on demeanor and dress, he gives you solid tips on how to address your accompanist, what kind of music to have in your book, and how to have it all laid out.  He also has suggestions for headshots and resumes, so he hits all the basics for auditioning regularly.  I just really enjoyed the way he approaches everything, and the examples he gives that make the advice more real and urgent than if it were just a list of items to remember.

A great read for anyone regularly auditioning for musicals.

THAT IS MY HALF CANNON, Y'ALL!  Here I was, certain to fail because of the wedding and the move, and I got it down with almost half the year left over.  That is magnificent.  Maybe next year I'll aim for the full cannon.  I'm going to keep posting reviews here beyond the 26 I required of myself, cause why not.  We'll see how far I get... ;-)

CBR IV Review #25 - Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

The three rules of the Librarians of Time and Space are: 1) Silence; 2) Books must be returned no later than the date last shown; and 3) Do not interfere with the nature of causality.

Guards! Guards! is one of the many novels in the series known as Discworld.  My husband recommended this one, as he was a fan.  Since I make him read things all the time (Game of Thrones and Hunger Games spring immediately to mind), I thought I would oblige him.

This volume of Discworld is set in Ankh-Morpork, and tells the story of a secret plot to overthrow the current ruler, the Patrician, and install a puppet king.  This is meant to be accomplished by the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night, run by a Supreme Grand Master, who has the idea to use a dragon to terrify the populace and inspire change.  Not surprisingly, this does not go as planned.  One of the biggest hitches in this plan is a group called the Night's Watch (I am the sword in the wait, wrong book).  The Night's Watch is run by Captain Vimes, an alcoholic who starts to take his job and his life more seriously when a new volunteer, Carrot, joins the ranks.  Carrot was raised by dwarves, even though he is obviously not one, with his enormous stature and strength.  He enjoys following the exact letter of the law, which is troubling for the Watch since they stopped having laws in Ankh-Morpork long ago.  The arrival of the dragon spurs the men to reluctant action, with the assistance of a dragon expert, Lady Ramkin.  They are also aided by The Librarian, who happens to be an orangutan. 

The book is rather ridiculous, and mostly in the best ways.  It took a long time for me to get into it, and it doesn't really resolve a great deal by the end (series and all that jazz).  However, the characters are great fun.  It's not a book I expect to really stay with me, and not a series I'm sure I'm dying to pursue, but it was a fun way to spend some time.

Friday, June 15, 2012

CBR IV Review #24 - Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess)

“You should just accept who you are, flaws and all, because if you try to be someone you aren't, then eventually some turkey is going to shit all over your well-crafted facade, so you might as well save yourself the effort and enjoy your zombie books.” 

A disclaimer:

A picture of me and Jenny (and Copernicus)
I have met Jenny Lawson.  I had her sign not only my book, but a book for a friend (it was her birthday and she introduced me to the blog, so I made it her birthday gift - she said it may have been the best gift ever).  I love this woman's blog unabashedly, and when I found out she was doing a signing in my state, I dropped everything to go.  By myself.  Because I didn't care if I was alone - the tribe was there.  Jenny was there.  It was enough. As such, you can expect this to be a rave review.  There was really no other way to write it.

This memoir is a mostly factual account of Jenny's life, childhood to present.  There are some elaborations and exaggerations for the sake of the humor of her narratives, but all of it serves to enhance the book.  If you've read any of The Bloggess, you know you are in for some crazy, stream of consciousness writing about insane stories that are almost too ridiculous to be true.  The craziest part is that most of them ARE true.  And laughing at these situations makes you feel so much better about your own life.

One of the things I enjoyed most about reading this was how enlightening it was.  I've enjoyed Jenny's humor as well as her crusade towards awareness of mental illness (she suffers from anxiety and depression - both things I can relate to).  But I didn't know where she came from, really, and this filled in those blanks.  Her childhood stories with her taxidermist father, in their dirt poor life out in the Texas countryside, are interesting and informative.  Hers was a home where playing tag could end with you running INSIDE a deer; where Dad could wake you in the middle of the night to show you the Magic Squirrel, who is actually dead and being used like a macabre hand puppet.  Her adolescence was a time where being Goth kept people away from her and trying to fit in led to being stuck in a cow's vagina.  This woman has turned years of therapy inducing crazy into some of the funniest stories I have ever heard.

I also enjoyed reading about her relationship with Victor, her husband (who my own husband refused to believe was real until this book had pictures to prove it).  He is incredibly quirky himself, and learning about how they met and got together made their relationship make way more sense.  As much as he complains about the taxidermied, dressed up animals in the house, or phone calls about attacking vultures with machetes to protect the dead dog, or how Jenny tells incredibly inappropriate stories in social situations as a response to her anxiety - you can tell he wouldn't have it any other way.

One of my other favorite things about this book is how much heart it has.  Yes, there is a lot to laugh at.  And yes, a lot of her life is ripe for comedy sketches.  But then there are the real things, the stuff that isn't funny.  The three miscarriages.  The way anxiety can sometimes overcome her and take over her life.  The loss of the family pet (ok, some of that was really funny).  Learning from a dog attack that you are, in fact, willing to put yourself in harm's way to protect your child.  She really exposes herself here, and knowing her battles with mental illness, that makes her strength to be able to do so that much more powerful.  Jenny let's you hurt with her and learn with her, as well as laugh with (and occasionally at) her.  And THAT is what a great memoir should be - something that really let's you feel like you know the person behind all those words.  I came away from this book feeling like I knew Jenny so much better, and being proud to be part of her tribe.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  There aren't any caveats to this recommendation, no "if you don't like x, then you won't like this" kind of addendums.  If you don't love this book, you may be critically broken inside.  And it may lead to you finding a giant metal chicken named Beyonce outside your door.  Knock, knock, motherfucker, indeed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

CBR IV Review #23 - A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson

Another one that screws up the quoting format, since google keeps giving me movie quotes.  Bah.

A Stir of Echoes is one of many works of Richard Matheson that has been adapted for the screen.  I saw the movie, starring Kevin Bacon, many years ago.  I don't remember liking it, but there was a creepiness factor to it that made me want to see if the book was better.  As such, when I stumbled upon this in a collection my friend lent me, I decided to check it out.

A Stir of Echoes is about Tom Wallace, an ordinary guy till his brother-in-law, Phil, hypnotizes him at a party and awakens some troubling psychic abilities.  Tom and his pregnant wife, Anne, have to deal with the fact that Tom can now hear some of the thoughts of those around him, sense what people are feeling, and most importantly, that there is a very good chance someone is reaching out to him from beyond the grave.  This leads to a number of troubling revelations about his neighbors, strife within Tom's home, and a lot of issues overall.

The best thing I can say about this book is that it is a quick read.  If it sounds like an episode of the Outer Limits, it should - that's what it feels like.  None of the characters are developed enough for you to give a crap about them, and those reduced stakes ruin the tension.  Tom is annoying, and his reaction to his gift/curse is both repetitive and shallow.  You don't get lost in this, or worry for the characters, or really feel any tension at all.  A chapter ends in a gunshot and I didn't care about putting it down for awhile before continuing - that is a huge problem.  I suppose the big reveal at the end was supposed to be shocking, but I just didn't give a shit.

Skip this one.  There are much better psi thrillers out there.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

CBR IV Review #22 - Words Spoken True by Ann H. Gabhart

It would appear that these free books don't like to lend themselves to easily findable quotes online, which is screwing up my formatting on here.  Oh well. That's what I get for not marking the quote on my Kindle.  Although, to be honest, I don't remember there being many quotes that jumped out at me.

As I just indicated, Words Spoken True was a free eBook I came across that seemed interesting and had a fair number of positive reviews.  It wasn't a terrible read, or I wouldn't have finished it, but I'm not sure I can really recommend it either.  This book centers around the newspaper business in Louisville in 1855, when the Know Nothing party was coming to power and creating a lot of turmoil.  The protagonists are rival editors (ok, one is the daughter of the editor, but for the purpose of this review, that's semantics).  Blake Garrett has recently moved to the area to run The Herald, escaping a nasty personal history in New York.  Adriane Darcy helps her father, Wade, run the Tribune, which until Blake's arrival had been dominating the news scene.  The novel follows their relationship, the politics of the time, Adriane's engagement to the awful Stanley Jimson, and the attacks of a river slasher in the area.  If this all sounds like a lot, it is.  There was a distinct lack of focus that could have helped give this better narrative flow.  Each story isn't bad on it's own, but you KNOW they have to relate, and that makes figuring out the exact plot from the beginning entirely too easy.  I was able to map out everything that would happen from about two chapters in, and in detail, so it wasn't even that fun to see how it got there.

Another bonus that I didn't realize was that this is a Christian Romance Fiction novel.  As such, there is a lot of reference to prayer and the Bible.  This started out as a charming character trait of both Adriane and Beck - he helped her through her abused childhood by giving her greater faith and that's a great thing.  But holy crap do they drop scripture about light ALL THE TIME.  Also, if I had to read one more damned analogy comparing virtually ANYTHING in Adriane's life to her being locked in the closet by her step mother I was going to burst.  Find a new topic.

On the positive side, I did like the characters in the story.  Adriane, Blake, Duff and Beck, and tertiary characters Mrs. Wigginham and Grace Compton, all kept me reading to see what they would do, even though I was pretty sure I knew (I did).  Honestly, I would have preferred a novel about those two tertiary women - they had moxie and were really interesting.

Basically, while it was an ok way to spend time, I'd recommend finding something else.