Books Review – Diary of a Teenage Girl (series)

Diary of a Teenage Girl
Kim #1 Just Ask 2005
Maya #2 It’s a Green Thing 2008
Melody Carlson
Paperback

 

Okay, I got these two books from the library sale, thinking that they were one and two of a series. I got them home and got a better look at them and discovered that they are but they aren’t – the Diary of a Teenage Girl series is apparently four books each about several different girls (five for Caitlin) that are somehow, somewhat related (cousins, friends, students at school together) with a few interrelated topics: God, journalism, and, uh, being a teenage girl. Thus, what I really got was Kim’s first book and Maya’s second book but not two consecutive books. Alas.
I started reading Kim first and got about a third of the way through before I just couldn’t stomach it any longer. I don’t mind Christianity being a part of a story if it really helps the story, but I don’t go seeking out Christian fiction as a matter of course. I’ve found some gems this way [Note: Eric Wilson’s Jerusalem Undead series. Go. Read. It. Now.]. But for every book like the Mandie series, where the characters happen to be Christian, there’s a book like this that tries so hard to jam it down one’s throat that you can’t help but choke on it.
In Just Ask, Kim is dealing with several things – wanting to get a car, trying to be Christian when her heritage dictates otherwise (she’s Buddhist by heritage, adopted into a Christian family), etc. And when she gets a speeding ticket, her father makes her pay it off by doing an advice column in the paper he owns. (The advice column thing is apparently an ongoing thing in the series, since one of the other girls ends up doing a column of some sort, too.)
So the book didn’t start off horrible. It’s a diary format, so it’s first person, which drives me nuts, but how else would you write a diary? But the author used a remarkable amount of underlining in the book – moreso than in everything else I’ve read this year combined – and that drove me nuts. Then there’s her writing style.
Look, everyone. There’s a big difference in a character doing something because it’s the right thing, or learning a lesson because God wanted one thing, etc., and having couple characters try this passive-aggressive “I know she died, but God’s there, so it’s totally okay” thing. This reads more like a sermon than a YA book, and that’s really off-putting to me. Everything that was done or happened in this book suddenly because a relate-it-to-God sermon. They went and saw Passion of the Christ and it became a “it’s good for a church movie” conversation where she ends it feeling inadequate because she’s not Christian. I was raised Catholic and didn’t have that much of a religious discussion about the movie; ours was more along the way of “How could any person treat another person that way, theology aside?!”
So like I said, I got a third of the way through, and the combination of good-enough (as opposed to actually good) writing and beating one over the head with God God God (hitting one’s self with the book would have been less painful) was just too much and I gave up.
I put both of the books aside for a bit and then decided to try the other one to see if it was any better.
Maya is Kim’s cousin, and with her mother in jail for drugs and her father a famous pop star, so she moves in with Kim. And Maya is totally in to being green, so she gets her own column in Kim’s dad’s paper (how many columns does one paper hold!?). And she’s just found God (I always hate that phrase. Where was he? Behind the drapes?!), so now she’s trying to figure out how recycling and God fit together. Because, um, that’s a problem how?
So, four pages in, we already have to have the “are you a Christian” discussion. Now, let’s stop for a minute. I have never in my life walked up to somebody and asked them what their religion was unless we were in a forum specifically for that – like an academic religious discussion – but here we have strangers that are doing community service asking if they’re Christian. Maybe that’s the author’s experiences, but they’re sure not mine. And like I said, I’m so not a fan of God-in-your-face being the way you write a religious book.
I’d rather a character show me they’re a good person through doing than have them quote a book to me. I know Athiests that have read the bible, too.
Oh, and with Maya, we get that added bonus of her being psycho into being green. And everything I’ve just said about the “Christian message” we now get about the “green message” too. At the end of every chapter, we get a tip box about going greener. “If we could recycle one newspaper a week…” “…do you know the difference between greener cars?…” And that doesn’t count what you get in the text. “How can this city not have a recycling program!?”
So, yeah. I gave up on that book about 15 pages in, because it was clear that the style problems I found in the other book continued in this one.

On to the rating, I suppose.
I tried to offer these to a couple friends and despite being Christian and having attended religious high schools and colleges and whatever, even they refused them. I’m actually considering throwing them in the trash.

No, really.

So, uh, I guess I give them a 1/5. Just, don’t bother with these at all. Unless you need toilet paper or firewood.

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Book Review–After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story by Michael Hainey

Title: After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story
Author: Michael Hainey
Format: Electronic
Written: 2012
Published: 2013

 

One early morning while Michael Hainey dressed for Kindergarten, his uncle Dick showed up at their modest Chicago home to tell Michael’s mother that her husband, a respected journalist,  had died in the wee small hours of that same morning.   Years later Michael read his father’s obituaries for a report and was struck by a few  things that just  seemed…off.    For more than a decade the persistent ghost of his father was joined by the haunting feeling that Michael, his mother and his older brother hadn’t been told the truth.     They knew Robert Hainey had an aneurysm burst as he was coming home from his night shift on the copy edit desk of the Chicago Sun Times.   Yet the obituaries in Hainey’s own paper said that he’d died after visiting friends…

on the other side of Chicago.

Why was Robert Hainey “visiting friends” at 4:00am?  What friends–if they were indeed friends at all–lived over there?    And why had Richard Hainey felt the need to lie to the family yet print the truth in his newspaper?

I’d read a write-up on the book in Entertainment Weekly; friends told me there was also a story on NPR.  The more I heard the more I was torn between curiosity and skepticism.   I desperately wanted to know the truth about that mysterious death, but I also just really hate “Daddy Issues” stories.    After five years of watching Jack Shepherd whinge about it on LOST and decades of characters in novels wittering on about it, there was also a pretty deep mystery about whether or not I would have the patience for yet another story about fathers and sons who don’t connect.

Curiosity won out, and I splurged eleven dollars on the Kindle Version once it wasn’t available at the library.  (Silly me, expecting the Nashville Public Library to buy a book that didn’t have naked people embracing on the cover.)   That was late Friday night, and I joked with Mandi that I wasn’t sure I’d have the review done since I had just downloaded the book.

I clicked the file open on my trusty Kindle Paperwhite and did not come up for air for three and a half hours.

I have been very fortunate in the last six months to have found many good books.  My ratio of good reads to mediocre/bad reads has been much better lately, thanks in large part to a vast network of recommenders who are honest and enthusiastic about sharing exciting titles.   So I can’t say I’ve had many bad reads.

The problem with that is that when I try to tell you how good this book is–no, how FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC this book is–I’m afraid I’ll come off like someone who just rates everything super high all the time.   (“Oh, look! Kath’s turning into Harriet Klausner!”)   After all, my review last week was a five-worm book.   It was also “the most entertaining, thrilling, and captivating read of the last six months.” 

So what superlatives are left?  And will you believe that they are earnest reactions and not bandwagon hype?     I honestly hope you will because this book was amazing.   In searching for answers to who his father was and how and why he really died, Hainey takes us on a journey through the lost world of pre-Watergate journalism and mid-century newspapers, crisscrossing the Midwest as he hunts down leads.   He takes us through his personal history, but he also serves as a docent to  the history of journalism, railroads, Chicago and the Dust Bowl.   Halfway through the novel you realise that Hainey has become a latter-day Virgil, taking the reader through the concentric circles of life as it spirals to the inevitable end.   There is literally not one paragraph of the book that is dull or uninteresting or pointless or showy.   Every word fits together as if it were made specifically to tell this story.

If you love mysteries, history, journalism, memoirs, then this is a book you will enjoy.   If you’ve ever found yourself questioning God about why you are here, or found yourself wondering exactly how and why your life turned out this way, then you’ll find a kindred spirit in Hainey.

It goes without saying that this book is a five-bookworm read, but I’d also say that it’s one of the rare books I’d rate as “Beyond Five”.

3bookworms2bookworms

Beyond Five!

Beyond Five!

 

Writer Wednesday – Jacqueline Sheehan

New York Times Bestselling Author Jaqueline Sheehan has been in print for almost a decade now, and has several novels to her credit.  This is her story…

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Jacqueline Sheehan

Tell us (briefly) about you…
Jacqueline Sheehan, Ph.D., is a New York Times Bestselling author of fiction She is also a psychologist. She is a New Englander through and through, but spent twenty years living in Oregon, California, and New Mexico doing a variety of things, including house painting, photography, freelance journalism, clerking in a health food store, and directing a traveling troupe of high school puppeteers.

Her novels include, The Comet’s Tale a novel about Sojourner Truth, Lost & Found, Now & Then, and Picture This. She has published travel articles, short stories, and numerous essays and radio pieces. In 2005, she edited the anthology, Women Writing in Prison.

Jacqueline has been awarded residencies at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland and Jentel Arts Colony in Wyoming. She teaches workshops at Grub Street in Boston and Writers in Progress in Florence, Massachusetts. She has offered international writing retreats in Jamaica, Guatemala, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
See above.

…and what you’re working on right now.
I’m taking a sharp departure and writing a book that is loosely based on a massacre that took place in Guatemala, 1990 in a Mayan village.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
I lived in a small town in CT where we had a one-room library. The rules were strict and if you were in the library, you were either sitting at table reading or searching for a book. Also, a wonderful memory is having chicken pox (that part wasn’t so wonderful) and my mother bringing me a mountain of books from the library. One of the books was The Incredible Journey and I loved it. I hadn’t realized until this moment how much that book probably influenced my writing. In both Lost & Found and Picture This, there are several chapter from the point of view of a dog.

What are your three favorite books?
To Kill a Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee. I read it every few years. It is nearly perfect.
Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver. She writes about the lustiness of nature so beautifully.
In the Woods, by Tana French. She’s an Irish writer who excels in dark psychological mysteries.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
If I’m reading more than one book at a time, it means that I’m not fully captivated by the writing. Right now I’m reading a memoir, Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, by Brian Leaf. Very funny and humble.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
I pray that the cat won’t knead his claws into my legs.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
There aren’t many books that I re-read, but when I do it is like visiting a good friend.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
It depends entirely on who is recommending it. But the chances of choosing a book with a personal recommendation are usually much higher.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
I do it all the time.

What do you look for in a good book?
I want to be fully immersed in the story, inside the skin of the characters.

Why do you write?
This will sound trite, but I write to more fully understand and experience the world.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I’m also a psychologist, but if I hadn’t been either a writer or a therapist, I probably would have studied frogs and insects. I was fascinated by them.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My childhood.
My current relationships.
The news.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
It has taught me that my most intimate and painful experiences are universal.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My writing friends completely understand the grinding level of work is required.
My civilian friends seem to think I’m on a pro-longed vacation. I’ve given up trying to change their minds.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I don’t know what the stereotypes are, which means I might be one.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Writers can talk about writing too much, rather than just writing. And new writers complain bitterly about the publishing industry before they even get a contract. I think it is part of the image that newbies might have of writers to complain about publishers. My experience with publishers has been quite good.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
I can be overly accommodating. I might need to stiffen up a bit.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
When Lost & Found is optioned for film again, I’d like to be the psychological consultant on the film.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I answer every single email that I get from readers. And I love doing readings. Meeting readers is still a thrill for me. I am grateful to them and I’m interested in what they have to say.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
That I hitchhiked across the country once. What an idiot!

Anything else we should know?
I could eat Mexican food every day of the week.

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