Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Sunday Salon - what I've been doing...

I realize that there has been a dearth of book reviews here lately - for someone who supposedly has a book blog, it's been pretty slim pickings. I'm sure some of my multitudes of readers (grin) are starting to wonder what the heck is going on. I can assure you, friends, it's not that I haven't been reviewing. It's that I have somehow found myself reviewing for *GASP* other sites! Because I can't say no, when I was approached a few months ago by a couple of book-review-type websites to review for them, I naturally said, Sure! Sign me up! Of course, only now do I see the problems inherent in agreeing to this - I spend all my time reviewing for the other websites, and don't have time to review anything for my own blog! Oh, the trials of my life. =) So here is a little rundown of what I've been reading for other places....

The first two are for, a fun site that does reviews, author interviews, contests, etc. They allow me to repost my full reviews on my blog, as long as I include the citation at the end.

Relief by L. E. Butler

Katie Larkin is desp
erate. Recently widowed, she has been forced to return to the home of her mother’s new lover. She is addicted to the sleeping powders prescribed by the doctor to keep her from walking in her sleep. She has received a small settlement from her dead husband’s family and is being pressured to get a job, find her own place to live, and leave her mother in peace. Katie has always thought of herself as an artist, and one night, without telling anyone, she buys herself passage on a ship bound for Venice.

Once arrived, Katie nearly panics at what she has done. After finding a tiny apartment to live in, she searches out the gallery of an American art dealer, Amy Seagroves, and introduces herself for the first time as an artist. Amy thinks her something of a curiosity, and decides to help Katie make her way in Venice. Amy’s first suggestion is to hire a dancing girl to pose for her so that she can paint portraits. Katie makes her way to the theater and meets Rusala for the first time.

Katie is immediately drawn to Rusala – her high spirits and daring personality stand in sharp contrast to Katie’s timidity. After only a few modeling sessions, the two are friends; Rusala begins to draw Katie into her circle, introducing her to the bohemian cast of characters who populate Rusala’s life. Soon, friendship deepens into a strong physical and emotional attachment, and Katie finds her life impossible to imagine without Rusala in it.

Rusala becomes Katie’s muse as she furiously paints to prepare for the showing Amy Seagroves plans at her gallery. Katie’s meager funds are running out, and she is counting on selling paintings to fund her new dream – a move to the country with Rusala. When she finds out that Amy has other plans for the paintings, Katie becomes frantic with worry and hatches a plan to ensure her future. As her actions become more reckless, secrets begin to emerge – secrets Rusala has been hiding that will change the course of everyone’s lives.

Butler has written a rich, dense first novel that envelops the reader in early 20th-century Venice. In the same way that a painting has many details waiting to reveal themselves to the viewer, Butler’s narrative is full of layers that she slowly reveals to the careful reader. Because she is writing about artists, her beautifully descriptive style of writing seems appropriate, and she paints exquisite pictures for her reader of the colors and locations in her novel. At a somewhat short 166 pages, Butler offers a story that feels complete and leaves the reader satisfied.

This novel, however, will not be for every reader. Butler’s characters are interesting but not especially sympathetic, and because the novel is so short, some readers may be unable to fully connect with the two main characters. There is a strong erotic component to the novel, and readers uncomfortable with graphic depictions of lesbianism would be happier staying away from this one. Additionally, because much of the novel deals with Katie’s inner turmoils, the pacing of the novel can sometimes get bogged down in descriptions of thoughts and feelings.

While not for everyone, Relief will certainly appeal to many readers. Butler’s beautiful writing style makes the novel a pleasure to read, and many paragraphs are worth re-reading simply for their loveliness. Readers looking for an intense, multi-faceted story with unconventional characters and an unusual ending are encouraged to give this novel a try.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Elizabeth Schulenberg, 2008

Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov's Little Girl All Over Again by Graham Vickers

“You must be confusing me with some other fast little article,” says Lolita to her stepfather, Humbert, in Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita. Ever since its publication in 1958, readers, critics, media personalities, journalists, and the general public have been busy confusing Lolita, twisting her story to conform to their own preconceived ideas. Graham Vickers gives us the history of Lolita and examines what 50 years of pop culture have done to co-opt the image of Lolita into the seductive temptress she is known as today.

Vickers gives readers a brief synopsis of Nabokov’s novel and stresses that, when Dolores Haze was first introduced to readers, she was a 12-year-old child, not the brazen seductress she has morphed into. Nabokov gives no indication that she was anything other than a normal, somewhat gawky schoolgirl. The first vision of Lolita as overtly sexual comes in a publicity poster for Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film version of the story, and from then on Lolita’s fate has been sealed.

Vickers spends times investigating the real-life precursors to the Lolita story, focusing on Charles Dodgson’s fascination with Alice Liddell and Charlie Chaplin’s fondness for young girls, including his short marriage to the teenaged Lillita. He then examines the difficulties Nabokov experienced in getting Lolita published, fighting worldwide censors and allegations of obscenity.

Vickers then examines the many attempts at bringing Lolita off the printed page and into visual media. The first attempt was Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film. Despite a screenplay written by Nabokov himself, Kubrick elected to change so much of the story that Lolita and Humbert become different characters, and Nabokov was vocally disappointed. In 1971, famed lyricist Alan Jay Lerner opened a musical called Lolita, My Love, which received such bad reviews that it closed after only nine performances. In 2005, playwright Edward Albee’s Lolita debuted in New York City to equally dismal reviews.

Not until director Adrian Lyne’s movie in 1997 did Lolita receive critical acclaim. Because of it’s proximity to the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996, Lyne’s movie almost never got distributed and eventually opened in Europe. While Lyne takes liberties with the story, he retains many of the novel’s unique details, and Nabokov’s son, Dmitri has openly endorsed it.

Vicker’s book is most interesting when he breaks away from the history and examines the ways in which pop culture has changed the meaning of the word Lolita. Beginning with Kubrick’s promotional posters for his movie, the media has been purposefully portraying Lolita in overtly sexual poses. The famous lollipop and heart-shaped sunglasses are fully inventions of a media intent on promoting Lolita as a purely sexual entity. Artist Graham Ovenden’s series of "Lolita" paintings seem to eroticize Lolita in ways that Nabokov never intended.

In the famous case of Amy Fisher, the Long Island Lolita, the blame for a horrifying sequence of events is placed on the shoulders of a seventeen-year-old girl while the man involved was practically absolved of guilt. Overnight, the term Lolita came to be synonymous with slut, a young woman who sets out to seduce and destroy an older man. One of the most tragic uses of the Lolita image is in the series of pornographic films produced in the 1970s featuring young girls between the ages of seven and eleven. Photos from these movies were then sold to the Dutch pornographic magazine Lolita.

Vickers writes an interesting, entertaining look at the history and myth of the famous, and infamous, Lolita. An obvious fan of the novel, Vickers assembles an interesting and thought-provoking collection of anecdotes about a novel that has been fascinating readers for 50 years. Readers who love the novel, or who are interested in the portrayal of women in society, will find much in this book to enjoy.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Elizabeth Schulenberg, 2008

Next are reviews for, another great site that primarily does book reviews. Their policy is that I can post a small blurb from my review, along with a link to their site, so here you go...

In Her Name by Michael Hicks

eza Gard's world is about to disappear. Under attack from the alien Kreelan race, the young boy watches his parents fight the invaders to the death. Running for his life, he is caught by Tesh-Dar, a Kreelan priestess. Showing courage beyond his years, he strikes at her with his knife, leaving a wound that runs across her face. Impressed by his courage, Tesh-Dar gives Reza a matching wound - and leaves him with his life. As one of the few people left alive, Reza is sent to Hallmark, a planet filled with orphans whose parents have been killed. Used as slave labor, the orphans live a dangerous life, and Reza soon becomes the leader of a motley group trying their best to survive. When the Kreelans return, Reza expects to be killed. However, when Tesh-Dar recognizes him, he is instead captured, along with several thousand other children, and taken to the Kreelan homeworld, where he will be part of an experiement to see if the human animals can be taught to have a soul.

(read the rest of the review here)

I really loved this book - it is self-published, but a truly wonderful read. You can read an excerpt at the author's website, if you are interested.

Chasing Sunsets: A Practicing Devout Coward's Circumnavigation with his Wife and Sun by Lawrence Pane, Carole Wells Pane, and Ryan Pane

Lawrence Pane and his wife had a dream - they would take their son and circumnavigate the globe in their sailboat, the Dolphin Spirit. When his wife died of cancer, most people thought that would be the end of Lawrence's crazy idea. However, his wife had been adamant - no matter what, Lawrence (Laurie) and Ryan were to sail around the world....
On March 16, 1996, Laurie, Carole, Ryan, and the Dolphin Spirit left Marina del Rey, California, on a six-year odyssey that would cover 40,000 miles, span 56 counties, and would be, literally, a dream come true.

(read the rest of the review here)

This book was alright, but a little tough to read straight through. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I could have dipped in and out - this family goes literally around the world, so the book is huge, and I just found myself a little tired of it. Still very interesting, though, and what an amazing experience for a young boy.

The next two are for, a site which I believe gets mostly romancy-type books, so I'm not sure how long I'll be able to hang here, but we'll see. They have also done a little editing of my reviews - changing up the order, shortening, etc. Apparently they are just looking for a synposis and brief comment. Not sure how I feel about that.

Apologies Forthcoming by Xujun Eberlein

A well written short story can open up an entire world in just a few pages. Apologies Forthcoming, the debut collection from author Xujun Eberlein, contains just that type of story. The eight tales in this collection are all set in t
he time period just before, during, or just after the Cultural Revolution in China. Each is the story of how one person deals with the changes being thrust upon them. Universal themes of art, poetry, love, family, violence, belief, and redemption flow throughout the collection, and each story is a small gem in the larger beautiful work.

(read the rest of the review here)

This was really a beautiful collection - if you enjoy short stories, I encourage you to try and find a copy. The writing is excellent, and each story is packed full of emotion.

Bounty hunter Cat Dupree is ready for some peace. Her lover, fellow bounty hunter Wilson McKay, is recovering from a near fatal shooting, and they have returned to his family's ranch while he slowly mends. On the vast ranchlands of Texas, Cat finds herself settling into life as a member of Wilson's boisterous, loving family. Having survived the deaths of both her parents as a young girl, Cat has been alone for most of her life, and she is slowly learning what it means to be loved. When she discovers that she is pregnant, she and Wilson marry, and both decide to put their bounty hunting days behind them. Fate, however, may not be on their side.

(read the rest of the review here)

I've enjoyed Sharon Sala for a long time. She's certainly not great literature, but every book I've read has been pure, fun entertainment. She's a great slump-buster for me.

So there you go - what I've been doing while neglecting my blog. I promise I haven't been sitting around eating bon bons. I'm going to try to figure out how to balance reviewing for the sites with reviewing for myself - it's a tough problem to have, so many books to read. =)


Anonymous said...

Holy cow! You've been busy.

Shana @ Literarily said...

So that's where you've been!

Do you review whatever you want to or do they dictate which books you review?