Zoo City, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Heartbreak Hotel, Celestial Blues: Book One, The Taken

This week I found time to do a little gardening, which in my case means watching my friend weed my garden. Then I came back in the house and went right back to reading. I'm definitely on a big reading streak, partly because I had to cancel my cable last December as a cost saving measure. Which means I can't go online or I'll be inundated with Game of Thrones spoilers. So anyway, this week I read several cookbooks the most interesting of which is called Vegan Tacos by Jason Wyrick. The author has a nice breezy style and there are tons of gorgeous pictures. If you are all into tacos you should give this book a look.

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Zoo City
I read Lauren Beukes' second book Zoo City and liked it even more than I liked Moxyland. She takes the idea of an animal spirit and plays with even more than Philip Pullman did when he wrote His Dark Materials books. In her world not everyone has an animal manifestation. Only people who are responsible for the death of another person has one. Naturally this makes people without animals a little nervous and the animaled live in segregated areas. Our main character Zinzi has a Sloth, who is kind of endearing, even to me to find sloths rather terrifying. He acts almost as her conscience, grumbling and complaining when she wants to do things that are unethical or immoral. He's also quite literally a guide in that when she's trying to make her way through the labyrinth of a condemned building in the dark he steers her by poking her with his claws to tell her which way to go.

Along with the animal spirits comes some sort of psychic / otherworldly ability. In her case she can find lost things. When she looks at a person she sees sort of trails coming out of them with the missing object hanging at the other end. She's making a living finding lost things for people but she's also involved with some major scams. As the story begins she's finding a ring for an elderly woman but when she comes back the elderly woman has been murdered. So who's the suspect? Obviously it's going to be our heroine whose animal indicates she has killed before. This is the first step in an extremely convoluted journey that will take her into the depths of a corrupt music industry.

The story is interspersed with quotations from sources talking about the animaled and what it means. One of my favorites is a supposed transcript from a documentary about prisoners who have animals who are behind bars. The different ways that they're treated by their particular prison and their particular country was quite interesting albeit depressing.

Once again Lauren Beukes look at segregation, class struggle, and the wildly different lines of the Haves and the Have Nots. Zoo City was a fascinating and entertaining novel. You can read an excerpt here: http://bookslive.co.za/blog/2010/06/10/book-excerpt-zoo-city-by-lauren-b...

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Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
I started Tom Robbins' novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues back when it was first written. For some reason I never finished it. Maybe I lost interest? Anyway I finished it this week and don't know what to think. It's the story of Sissy, a young woman who is born with ridiculously large thumbs which she puts to work hitchhiking as soon as she can. She has a series of adventures that take her all around the world and bring her into contact with teenage cowgirls who are taking over a ranch, whooping cranes that vanish, rigid upper-class New Yorkers, a hermit, and a couple of fairly crazy doctors.

It's a book that is both hilarious and really dull. The language is lyrical and I love the metaphors and descriptions, such as a character wearing a skirt so short her crotch doesn't realize she finished getting dressed, but the philosophy and character rambling became very hard to get through. Maybe if you read like a chapter a day for years something it will be easier to cope with. Honestly I don't even know if I'm recommending this book or not. I guess you'll just have to give it a shot and see what you think. I may never know what I think. You can find an excerpt here: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/155513/even-cowgirls-get-the-blu...

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Heartbreak Hotel
Heartbreak Hotel is Anne River Siddons first novel, published after her nonfiction essay collection John Chancellor Makes Me Cry. Set in the fifties in the deep, deep south, this is the coming-of-age story of a very privileged white girl. She is pretty. She is smart. She is pampered. She's the apple of her parents eyes. It's almost like she's in a cocoon. She just drifts along doing what everybody else is doing. She's in a sorority. She's pinned to a super rich dude whose family owns an honest-to-god plantation in Mississippi. She writes for the school paper but she mostly just kind of writes about nothing or at least nothing important. Until for one moment she's able to empathize with someone who is the opposite of her. When she writes about her experience and how it changed her she sets off a ripple effect that will impact everyone around her and change her forever.
The story takes place at the very beginning of the civil rights movement or at least when the civil rights movement is coming to the attention of the average American citizen. It was written in 1976, which makes reading it now when we've both come such a long way and no way at all quite interesting. If nothing else this book is worth reading if you have any interest at all in mid-century Southern life. The amount of drinking and driving that goes on is absolutely appalling. I felt like I spent half the book cringing, between the drunk driving and the racism.

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Celestial Blues: Book One, The Taken
I read Vicki Pettersson's new book Swerve not too long ago and had mixed feelings about it. I did like it enough that I wanted to give her another try so I picked up a book called The Taking which is book one in her Celestial Blues series. Also set in Las Vegas, this story is quite different from Swerve which was a straight-up thriller. This is a supernatural story with a hero called Griffin who has been dead for fifty years. Unable to move on, obsessed with solving the murder of his wife and himself, he is a sort of angel that escorts the newly murdered to their next destination. He inadvertently starts a chain of events that will lead to the murder of a feisty young reporter called Kit, who lives a rockabilly lifestyle and looks like the women of his day. He is told he has to watch her rape and murder and then take her to wherever she goes next. Of course there is no way he can stand for this so he steps in, which leads to even more chaos and confusion.

There are lots of stories about angels falling in love with humans and I've always found them fairly creepy. In this story Grif is not a pure angel; he's a man who's been given angelic powers. He and Kit get the all-clear from me. If they want to have a romance I'm not going to say no. By which I mean I'm not going to put the book down and refuse to finish reading it.

I really enjoyed this one. I liked it a lot more than I liked Swerve. In fact I liked it enough that I'm reading book two in the series already. This book brings together a whole bunch of my various interests. Kit loves vintage and retro items and her house is beautifully styled. As a seller of vintage items myself I got a kick out of reading about her possessions.

There is an extensive trail of dirty doings in this book. Grif was a private detective in life and with Kit being a reporter they're both on the case trying to sort out who's done what and who killed Kit's friend. Like Swerve this book has some very grim, gritty elements, so be forewarned. You can browse inside the book here: http://browseinside.harpercollins.ca/index.aspx?isbn13=9780062064646

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Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is video of a baby elephant seal that is making the rounds. I'm pretty sure it was a cat in a former life.