Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye: Review

Hey, want to read a book? A book about growing up and coming of age? How about a book in which every character is a psychopath and murder is the first solution to every problem?

Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone is possibly the most disturbing book I’ve read in a long time. Like, Oh the Humanity! disturbing. The setting is some old German backwater, Hemmersmoor, where the people are superstitious and strangers regarded with suspicion. It never ends well for strangers in this book. People outside of Hemmersmoor don’t much like the villagers either. They are the type that outsiders would say “kept to themselves,” a euphemism for “too many cousins marrying for centuries.” There is something quite wrong with these people. They have a complete lack of empathy.

The book opens with a group of once childhood friends gathering in front of The Big House for a funeral. One of the group plans on turning the house into a hotel. There is bitterness and hatred under the surface and hints at hidden secrets. The book then flashes back to the past when they were all just kids. It is sometime after World War II, though it could be a century ago, the village doesn’t change. The book is a series of alternating points of view, each vignette more disturbing than the next, chronicling their childhood.

The first tale sets the tone for the book. The villagers, in a fit of violence, murder a family of six and burn their house down. No one feels bad about this event. It’s business as usual. The children grow up in an atmosphere of violence. Their parents are superstitious, angry, and deranged. The kids aren’t any better. One boy commits his first murder when he’s just seven years old.

The stories remind me of Grimm’s fairy tales. Tales where random and inexplicable acts of violence are committed. The villagers are quick to forget their own dirty deeds but real and imagined sins are never forgiven and payback is brutal. Old legends are weaved into the memories of the children. The devil makes an appearance though I wonder if the narrator of this tale is reliable since he seems to be the maddest of the group. They do terrible things or are silent witnesses to them.

Even though Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone is crazy loco, I couldn’t stop reading. I had to find out all the secrets. It’s well written too. Some reviews complain about a lack of denouement. It does just sort of end, but I went back and read the prologue and it all seemed to make sense. The town is about to have to deal with changes. Their secrets aren’t going to be their own for much longer. That’s kind of an ending.

This book will give you a sense of unease and while it’s not for everyone, I recommend it.

Readathon 2013: Update #4

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The Readathon is about to begin and I’m just dragging myself out of bed now. Sorry, I do this every Readathon. Before I get the coffee on, I’ll tell you what I’ll be reading.

  • The Clothes They Stood Up In. Alan Bennett
  • Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone. Stefan Kiesbye
  • The Flamethrowers. Rachel Kushner
  • The Night Bookmobile. Audrey Niffenegger
  • The Edible Woman. Margaret Atwood (audio)

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

  1. Nova Scotia, Canada
  2. Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone. It looks creepy
  3. I have a chocolate bar hidden away. Winking smile
  4. I’m a brunettte with green eyes and I am very tired right now.
  5. Probably nothing. I’m always a read when I can readathoner.

I’ll be updating this page during the readathon. Good luck!


Update #1

It’s 2 and a half hours in and I have finished one book: The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett. Not sure what to make of it. It’s sadder than I thought it would be and very British.

I had some waffles and I’m considering taking a run before moving onto my next book.


Update #2

I had my run while listening to The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood. I’m really liking it. She was a clever and funny writer, even back in 1965.

As for Mini-Challenges. I did Book Appetit and the Self-Portrait.

I think it’s time for snacks!


Update #3

Just my Book Sentence Challenge

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Rumors surfacing when she flew.


Update #4

Update the fourth and a mini-challenge! I’m close to done Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone. A seriously disturbing book. Still working on The Edible Woman too.

My Little Pocketbooks asks us to cast the protagonist of our current book.

1. Book: The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

2. Character: Marian McAlpine. She cannot eat since getting engaged and feels that she’s being consumed. I cast Jennifer Lawrence.

3. Why? Marian is young, smart, and funny, as is Jennifer. Plus, Jennifer was already in one hunger related movie, why not another?

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The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin: Review

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase Stepford Wife, usually referring to a subservient woman with little else than domestic interests. A perfect doll of a wife. Have you given any thought to where that came from? Yes, there was that terribly campy Nicole Kidman movie and before that the original 1975 version, but first came the novella by Ira Levin. I picked the book up on a whim from the library and although I knew ‘the secret’ of the book, I had no idea what I was in for. Holy whoa! It gave me the heebie-jeebies. That Kidman movie in no way did the book justice. The tone is all wrong.

I need to talk about this book in detail. Right now! So, if you haven’t read the book and want to, don’t peek under the break. I will tell you that you should read it. Today. Come back and talk to me about it. It’s short, 123 pages, don’t worry.

In The Stepford Wives, Joanna, Walter and their kids move to Stepford, a perfect little town, or so it seems. When Joanna tries to befriend some of her neighbours, the ladies in particular, she gets the cold shoulder. They’re all too busy cleaning their houses and taking care of their husbands to even go out for a cup of coffee. So much for her plan to start a NOW chapter. The Men’s Club on the other hand is a going concern. The men of the town spend all their free time in their mysterious clubhouse. Joanna seems doomed to loneliness until she meets Bobbie, another recent addition to Stepford. Bobbie is funny and intelligent and just as flummoxed by the Stepford women as Joanna. Together they try to shake Stepford out of its dusty ways, but they have no idea what they’re dealing with.

If you have read the book or know what happens at the end of The Stepford Wives then please continue on…

The Brinkley Girls Edited by Trina Robbins: Review

A few months ago I came across an article in a magazine about fashion related graphic novels and immediately started looking for them. It took awhile for my library to get the first one for me, but this past week it finally arrived!

Nell Brinkley was an artist for Hearst Magazines. Her specialty was beautiful girls, and her drawings so distinct that the girls she created were known by her name, The Brinkley Girls. Trina Robbins collected Brinkley’s full paged art, found in American magazines during the early part of the 20th century, into this volume. Robbins adds a bit of background and commentary but mostly lets Brinkley’s art speak for itself.

Brinkley’s work is broken into three styles: the serials, the Flappers, and the pulp series.

The serials are the earliest (1918-1922) and most garish. The panels are a single illustration with text written by Brinkley. I’m not sure if it was the style at the time or what but I couldn’t read her stories. Brinkley seemed to believe why use one adjective when you could use three. The drawings are beautiful but dramatic with ladies’ hair, dresses, and scarves blowing into the wind. Drama was the order of the day.

The Flappers were my favorite. Brinkley changed from a single illustration to five on one page. Text was written by Carolyn Wells in bad verse. The girls are awfully dumb but they had great fashion sense!

Prudence Prim is harassed by lechers every time she steps outdoors but can’t decide if she wants to have adventures or run back home. Flossie is obsessed with psychics and her boyfriend is a jerk, Dimples is a dreamer with a jerk for a boyfriend too, and Gloriette a French girl in America trying to navigate the cultural divide.
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Prudence Prim in her new outfit

The 1930s make up the final chapter. Brinkley illustrated and wrote these pulpish looking series: Heroines of Today and The Princess from Nowhere. Heroines of Today is interesting since the stories are based on real women. The girls have that American girl next door look to them, much different from the cartoonish Flappers.

The Brinkley Girls is beautiful to look at and well laid out. It is a large coffee table style volume. I imagine that the art here is much larger than it would have appeared in the original magazines. All the better to see it, my dear!

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham (Audiobook): Review

Franny Banks is an aspiring actress in New York City with a deadline. She’s given herself three years to make it as an actress or head back to her hometown and start a ‘normal’ life. Now, at the beginning of 1995, she has just 6 months left and all she’s managed to snag is a commercial for ugly Christmas sweaters. With two roommates and an in demand job as a waitress in a comedy club, she still can barely make rent in Brooklyn. She needs an agent but they’re hard to come by. Surprisingly enough, after an embarrassing tumble during her acting class’s showcase, she has not one but two offers for representation. Could this finally be her big break?

I heard whispers on Twitter that Lauren Graham had written a book and my spidey senses started tingling. Lauren Graham, the actress that played Lorelai Gilmore on The Gilmore Girls, wrote a book? I was torn between excitement and trepidation. Was this just going to be a case of an actress sticking her name on any old thing and selling it to the masses? Fortunately, no. It’s really good!

First, it’s set in 1995. Wahoo, the nineties! I loved that. No smartphones or even cell phones. Even though this is fiction, there is a lot of Graham in the book. She was an aspiring actress herself in the 1990’s. When Franny goes through the process of becoming whatever character she’s asked to be no matter how small the role, I felt like I was getting some insight into how actors do what they do. It was like a mini acting lesson. It’s fascinating.

I loved the protagonist Franny. She’s funny and warm with enough self-awareness to know when she’s being a jerk. When she says something catty to another character out of jealousy, she realizes it right away and regrets it even though she can do nothing to fix it. There’s some complexity to her. Franny’s journey means making a lot of wrong decisions, of questioning whether or not she should compromise her morals to begin her career as an actress. For Franny, acting isn’t about becoming a big star but making a living doing something she loves, but she has that deadline in her head that she must meet.

Graham doesn’t take Someday, Someday, Maybe too seriously though. She pokes fun at the formulaic devices used in this type of fiction. After seeing a rom-com, Franny asks why there is always a love triangle and a sassy best friend in every one of those movies. The joke is Franny is in a love triangle and has a sassy best friend too. There are lots of little laughs like this. (Well, I found them funny anyway.)

As for faults, I found some of the descriptions of being on a set or an audition a little long. Maybe too much detail there. And Franny starts a lot of sentences with “Shit.” Not that I mind this word but she says it a lot. I like some variety in my swears.

If you’re looking for something fun and quick but with some wit and emotion, read Someday, Someday, Maybe.

About the Audio: Lauren herself narrates. That was the right way to go. She ought to know her own work and where the inflections should go. I loved her accents, especially for one of the agents. It was quite entertaining. It only took me a day to listen to this. It’s a quick one.


Ratings:
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Thanks to Random House Audio for the review copy. Someday, Someday, Maybe will be available for purchase April 30th.

French Kissing by Catherine Sanderson: Review

After her partner has an affair with his secretary, Sally Marshall, a Brit living in Paris, starts a new life with her daughter. First, she takes care of the basics: gets an apartment, finds a good school for Lila, and creates an arrangement where Lila can still see her father and his family. Her personal life, however, she’s neglected. Tired of the lonely nights, she signs up with the online dating service, Rendez-Vous.

She dips her toes cautiously into the dating waters, unsure whether or not to let her potential suitors know about her status as a single mother. However, the logistics of dating while being a single parent are a bigger issue. Dating isn’t easy when you can’t be spontaneous, have to plan for sitters and be home early. Can Sally find a guy who’s worth the effort?

Lordy, it took me longer than expected to read French Kissing. It could have used more French kissing actually. It dragged in parts, especially Sally’s dates. They weren’t particularly memorable, not sexy or terrible, just blah. Things did pick up at the end as Sally has to make up her mind and decide which dude she’s going to focus on.

I did like Sally though, when she wasn’t being a moron over one particular guy. Her situation is a difficult one and I can’t imagine trying to date while mothering a very young child, especially in a country that’s not her own. At least Sally is fluent in French, as she is an English tutor. She’s got that going for her anyway.

I’m on the fence about French Kissing by Catherine Sanderson. The premise, the setting, and most of the characters were enjoyable but the pacing just wasn’t there for me. The cover is very pretty though, that’s what made me buy it! (Shallow!)

French Kissing didn’t make online dating very appealing. I’m curious, if anyone is willing to tell me, is online dating just one long boring nightmare?

Ratings:
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Another Lazy Sunday Thoughts

Hello! I hesitate to write this but…I think the reading drought is over. I finished 2 books this week! That’s a big deal because in all of 2013, I’ve read a total of 10 books. For me, that’s not a lot. I’m not sure what’s changed, maybe nothing. Maybe I was trying too hard to like the books I was reading before. I’m not sure. IMG_0742

It’s a good feeling to suddenly want to read again. So, what were the books I read this week? French Kissing by Catherine Sanderson (not so great) and Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham (yep, Lorelai Gilmore, and it was great!). I picked up The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin on a whim from the library and The Brinkley Girls (illustrations) arrived via ILL.

I’m thinking I’d like to do a book purge too. I’ve looked at my shelves and thought, “I’m never going to read that.” So, it must go.


It was another week of Estellagraming for me. Here’s what I shot this week. 

iPod Photo Cache

  1. Blogging
  2. Cult (Outlander)
  3. Paper (crochet pattern)
  4. Light (French Kissing)
  5. Heavy (The Bell Jar)
  6. ARC (The Flame Throwers)

What did you think of the Meg Wolitzer article found linked in the Flavorwire link from Friday? First, that headline, Men Won’t Read Books About Women, makes it sound like that’s all she was discussing when in fact it was a tiny part of that interview. Second, is this a fact? Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? When you say something over and over, it simply becomes true. I know plenty of dudes who read books by women, granted those men are book bloggers, but they aren’t put off by female names on covers.

Wolitzer does make a point about very feminine covers. It’s not just men who are turned off by the abundance of pink and flowers on the covers of books. Maybe this is simply a marketing issue. Perhaps more gender neutral covers will entice men to read them.

Loved the comments from some of the dudes (and one lady) in that article. “I don’t want to read about feelings and girls write about feelings.” No, good lord, not emotions! To the fainting couch! Because, you know, great male writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald never wrote about girly stuff like feelings. Nope, not at all.

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Stuff

What is up, Readers? I feel like it’s been ages since I’ve actually said anything on the blog. My mind is a blank. Ever have that feeling? What do I write if I have nothing to say? It’s boring. I bore myself these days.

The weather (always a reliable Canadian topic) is improving and I’ve been running outside. Yay! I hate the treadmill like a mo-fo. Hate. It. Still I do it because I have to; it’s just one of those things. Getting outside makes running fun(?) again. At least it’s a change, even though the wind is all, “Hahaha! I’m putting a stop to this!” Wind is not my friend. A nice thing about outdoor running again was when hubs said to me today, “You smell like the ocean.” A lot nicer than, “ew, stinky.”


Maybe I can get back to taking photos outdoors too. This week marked the beginning of April Estellagram. Here are the pics I took so far.

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Top to Bottom, left to right

  1. Holiday: half eaten bunny
  2. Currently reading: The Bell Jar
  3. Paper: Owl post-its
  4. Author: Simon Van Booy followed me on Twitter
  5. Autograph: Karen E Olson
  6. Favorite: more Simon Van Booy

Have you found Thug Kitchen yet? Warning: there are so many swears. I think FizzyJill would like this site. I love it. Eat your veggies like a boss.

I better go read something. Bye!

The Reluctant Detective by Finley Martin: Review

ReluctantAnne Brown finds herself the owner of Darby Investigations and Security after her beloved Uncle Billy dies and leaves the company to her. The Prince Edward Island agency is not exactly a booming business and Anne is half thinking of moving on when two cases fall in her lap. Neither seems difficult and one appears to be easy money. She has a little experience in the investigative field, so why not? A single mom with a teenaged daughter isn’t about to let an opportunity like this slide by. God laughs when humans make plans and the easy money case gets complicated. Anne ends up neck deep in trouble, putting herself, her family and friends in danger with local thugs and international villains.

After a bit of a clunky start, I ended up thoroughly entertained by The Reluctant Detective by Finley Martin. Anne is quick on her feet and level headed, even when she’s shaking in her boots. There is some info-dumping about the characters at the beginning, which always bothers me. This isn’t an elegant way to introduce new people into a story but it was quick so I got over my irritation.  By the time things get rolling, I was hooked by the action and didn’t want to put it down. As in most mystery novels, I often wondered why Anne was doing the things she did, but I just went with it. The ending is a nail biter and I was glad I held on during the bumpy beginning.

I loved the setting of Prince Edward Island. Not exactly the hotbed of criminal activity, so a detective agency on the island is unexpected. I enjoyed what Finley Martin did with it. I look forward to what this other Island Anne gets up to, that is if the author writes another.

Ratings:

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