Review ♦ Undress Me In The Temple Of Heaven

Undress Me In The Temple Of HeavenIn 1986, Susie and her friend Claire, fresh-faced graduates from Brown University, were inspired by a placemat entitled "Pancakes of Many Nations" to depart on an epic trip around the world, starting with Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China, then only recently opened to the rest of the world. As the two ventured into what turned out to be a strange and alien land, they encountered places far different from anything they had ever experienced, from the horrors of an open-ditch toilet in the back of a weird hybrid tenement hotel, to a magical boat ride through a fantastic landscape of wind-carved mountains. At every turn, they stumbled upon unforgettable people, including an earnest local who called himself George and loved everything American from hamburgers to Stevie Wonder, a heroic German exchange student named Eckehardt Grimm, and a young waitress named Lisa in an unlikely restaurant in the middle of rural China that specialized in food for weary travelers, such as pancakes and pizza, "just like their mama make."
Armed only with Nietzsche's greatest works and a copy of Linda Goodman's Love Signs, Susie and Claire were utterly unprepared for their expedition, and their experience alternated between culture shock and exotic adventure, until a near-tragedy turned the trip into a true-life international thriller. Recounted in Susan Jane Gilman's inspired and unmistakable voice, this adventure is an unforgettable voyage into a peculiarly modern heart of darkness.

Title: Undress Me In The Temple Of Heaven Type: Audio Book (CD) 8 Hours (320 Pages)
Author: Susan Jane Gilman Publication Date: March 2009
Publisher: Hachette Audio ISBN: 978-1-60024-448-3
Genre: Memoir / Travel Purchase: Amazon

My Thoughts  
So this will be the very first time that I talk about an audio book here! It’s not that I don’t enjoy listening to them, it’s more to do with the fact that (a) comfy headphones are hard to find, (b) audio books are pretty expensive, (c) my library doesn’t have the greatest selection, and (d) my house is way too noisy with kids, animals, music, and videogames! Sometimes I worry that if I happen to get too engrossed in an audio book I will be unable to hear any possible destruction/accidents/brouhahas happening around me. Anywho, over the past few weeks I took advantage of the time I spend commuting to school and back everyday and listened to Susan Jane Gilman’s fascinating travel memoir Undress Me In The Temple of Heaven. I figured listening to this in my car while traveling would allay any possible worries I had of my house falling down around me, however I became so engrossed in the story that I’m sure a parade of elephants could have been dancing down the highway beside me and I would not have noticed!

I’m not going to rehash the synopsis here, I think the publishers description included above is perfect. Instead I want to focus on the things that really impressed me.

The most important thing about audio books for me is the actual reader/narrator. From the first 5 minutes of listening I was immediately blown away by Susan Jane Gilman’s voice, perhaps because of the autobiographical nature of the story, or perhaps because she is just a born story-teller I felt like the author was speaking directly to me. This is exactly what I want with this type of audio, the personal feel, the sense that someone is telling you a story about what they’ve experienced in their life. There were moments when I could hear the laughter, the awe, and the sadness underneath the words. It truly felt as though the author were reliving certain things while discussing them.

The ability to convey emotions through the retelling added to next aspect of what I loved in this audio book – the amazing subject of the authors travels, as well as the historical and cultural reflections. The author and her friend are traveling through China in the 1980’s and throughout their experiences the author manages to slip in lots of information about how that China differed from present-day China and it also helps the reader/listener to understand just how different the culture is there from North America. As young backpackers with no real experience traveling outside their own society, the culture shock that they experience is clear, honest, and at times scary to contemplate. I really was fascinated by the descriptions of where these two young women were, the people they met, and the situations they found themselves in.

*** May contain spoilers if you don’t want to know the details of the disaster of the travels***

The two women are school friends who’ve decided to travel together, and like many friends who think they know one another well, there are always things you don’t really know. During the trip, Susan Jane Gilman begins to notice her friend Claire behaving oddly, often paranoid and anxious. At first she believes it merely to be caused from stress, tiredness, culture shock, all those little things about travel that can upset a person’s personality. However it keeps getting worse, until the author realizes that Claire is most likely suffering some sort of mental/psychological breakdown. It was terrifying to hear about what was happening, it’s hard enough to help a person through something like this on your own turf, but I couldn’t imagine doing it while in a foreign country with no network of family, friends or even healthcare officials. Not to mention the language barrier.

*** End of possible spoilers***

To sum it up, for approximately 8 hours of commuting time, I was completely engaged in Undress Me In The Temple Of Heaven. I would listen to the story on my way to school, and then sit in classes anticipating the moment when I could jump back in my car, hit the highway, and tune in again to Susan Jane Gilman’s fascinating and exciting adventure in world travel and friendship. The only issue I had with this audio book was the fact that it is an unabridged version of the actual book, but I enjoyed it so much that I am planning on picking up an unabridged copy to read in the future.

Susan Jane Gilman

About The Author

Susan Jane Gilman is the author of the bestsellers Hypocrite In A Pouffy White Dress, and Kiss My Tiara. She has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Ms., and Real Simple, among other publications, and received several literary and journalism awards. She currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland, with her husband.

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© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.

Review ♦ Would You

Would You

Would You Rather
Know What’s Going To Happen
Or Not Know?

A summer night. A Saturday. For Natalie’s amazing older sister, Claire, this summer is fantastic, because she’s zooming off to college in the fall. For Natalie, it’s a summer with her friends; nothing special.

But when Claire is hit by a car, the world changes in a heartbeat. Over the next four days, moment by moment, Natalie, her parents, and their friends wait to learn if Claire will ever recover.

Book Title: Would You Type: Mass Market Paperback 165 pages
Author: Marthe Jocelyn Publication Date: March 2010
Publisher: Tundra Books ISBN: 978-1-77049-223-3
Genre: Middle Grade/Young Adult Purchase: Amazon

My Thoughts  
Would You is a story about how a teen girl reacts in the aftermath of a terrible accident in which her older sister is hit by a car, which leaves her in a coma suffering from brain damage. This book begins by introducing the main character Natalie and giving a glimpse into her life. She lives an average life, with wonderful relationships with both her parents and her older sister Claire, and has a group of close friends, some of whom she loves, others who are just acquaintances. Natalie is in high school, and is also a part-time lifeguard at the local recreation centre. She enjoys hanging out at the local diner, and pool-hopping at night with her friends. Natalie and Claire are close in age and have always gotten along awesomely, except for some small sisterly arguments, and the stress that’s been bothering her lately when she thinks of Claire going off to college in the fall. To sum it up, Natalie has a terrific life and the summer looks to be full of fun.

But all of that ends immediately one evening, when Natalie returns home to find her parents waiting for her to rush off to the hospital with them. Apparently Claire has been hit by a car and is hurt very badly. It’s not until the next morning that Natalie realizes just what this could mean for her sister, her family, and herself.

The rest of the story is told from Natalie’s point of view and presents the reader with all of her thoughts about what’s going on. This is a heartbreakingly honest narrative that shows how a young girl deals with her family and her friends, while also working through the psychological and emotional effects of her sister’s accident and the possible outcomes.

As the doctor’s reveal more information about Claire’s condition, and their father becomes obsessed with statistics concerning brain injuries, Natalie finds herself playing the “Would You?” game more seriously than before. “Would You?” is a game that she’s played with friends for ages, coming up with silly or gross propositions like “Would you rather lose all your hair or all your teeth?” and “Would you rather have your father sing at the supermarket or have your mother fart in the principal’s office?” But now she’s pondering whether a person would rather die or stay alive with permanent brain damage. Or would she rather let her sister go peacefully, or keep her alive in a vegetative state.

During my youth I had not read many of those books that focus on illness, injury, or death. For whatever reason, I found them too much like afterschool specials and just didn’t appeal to me. However, Would You did appeal to me, from the moment I began reading. It almost certainly is because of how real the characters seemed to me, especially Natalie. Her actions and reactions seemed to be so true to life, for instance there is a scene where Natalie is in her bedroom which she shares with her sister, and she glances at the laptop her sister received as a grad present. From out of nowhere the thought crosses her mind that should Claire not recover the laptop will be hers. Almost instantly Natalie becomes horrified that this thought occurred to her, but in some way I think it shows that she has subconsciously has begun to accept that her sister may not make it through. That scene was terrible because of the circumstances, however I think it was important in showing how the human mind begins to prepare itself for the process of going on after a being destroyed temporarily by a life altering accident.

Would You is a very emotional read, and looks at a very dark occasion in a teen girls life. However I do think that the story being told is a valuable one. It does present emotionally scary ideas, but never becomes medically explicit. It contains a little bit of adult language used within the teens conversations, no sex, aside from some kissing, and no alcohol or drug use. So in my opinion this is a book that could definitely be read by mature middle graders as well as young adult readers.

Marthe Jocelyn

About The Author

Marthe Jocelyn is the author of several award-winning novels and has written and illustrated picture books. Her most recent novel for Tundra Books is How It Happened in Peach Hill, which was a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book, and an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults. Marthe Jocelyn lives in Stratford, Ontario.

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© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.

Review ♦ Beastly

Beastly Browse Inside

I Am A Beast

A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog, but a horrible new creature who walks upright – a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.
You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll stay this way forever – ruined – unless I can break the spell.
Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly … beastly.

Book Title: Beastly Type: Trade Paperback 304 pages
Author: Alex Flinn Publication Date: September 2007
Publisher: Harper Teen ISBN: 978-0-06-087418-6
Genre: Young Adult Fiction Purchase: Amazon

My Thoughts   
Beauty and the Beast is probably my favorite fairy tale of all time. I watched the Disney film over and over as a child, and also enjoyed seeing it performed live in various theatre productions. And yes, I was even a fan of the horribly corny 1980’s television series starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. What really interests me about this tale is the ideas of how a person sees themselves, thinks the world sees them, and how physical transformations can have a psychological and emotional effect on a person. It’s also very intriguing to see the beast character realize that true beauty rarely has anything to do with what something looks like.

Beastly by Alex Flinn is a re-telling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, set in modern day New York City, featuring young adult characters, and told from the Beasts perspective rather than from Beauty’s. This version is very similar to the original, but what makes it really different is the change of time. From the first page this present day setting is apparent, as the story opens with a transcript from an online group chat. These chat transcripts will appear throughout the story and are an awesome detour from the main narrative. The chat group, called Unexpected Changes, is basically an online support group for people/creatures dealing with transformations. It includes characters such as a mermaid who falls in love with a sailor she saved from drowning, a frog living in a pond, and a grizzly bear who likes the ladies. It’s super fun to hear about these others and to see how Beast relates to them.

The main story is basically the same, an arrogant, popular, rich boy named Kyle gets cursed by a witch so that he will be as physically revolting as he acts. The only way to break the curse is for a girl to love him for who he truly is, rather than what he looks like. After becoming a beast, Kyle’s totally revolting father banishes him to a townhouse, where he lives with the family’s maid and a blind tutor. Some time later a man gets caught breaking into Kyle’s estate and trades his daughter Lindy to Kyle in exchange for his own freedom. Like I mentioned very similar to the original, but still unique in it’s presentation.

I found this story to be particularly interesting because of the modern setting and the different perspective it gave. By having it told by the Beast, the reader gets a better sense of how his transformation changes his outlook and his attitude. It is true that he desires his hostage to love him because it means he will revert back to his old self, however you can also get a sense of his realizing that his behavior beforehand was wrong. His father’s rejection and ex-girlfriends disgust at first confuse him, because he knows he is still the same person, but instead all they see is how he looks. This is an important part of his psychological transformation, as he realizes that he only judged according to appearance, never willing to look beyond the plain or the un-extraordinary.

The other thing that makes this story different is the role that the fathers played. Kyle’s father approves of his son because he is handsome, popular and likely to succeed in life. But even as perfect as Kyle was, his father never really seemed to value his son. And he quickly turns his back on Kyle when he becomes beastly, which shows that Kyle’s thinking was something that was reinforced by his father. However, as bad as Kyle’s dad sounds, Lindy’s father was worse. Her dad was a drug addicted lowlife who relied upon his daughter to take care of him, and was more interested in his stash of drugs than his own child’s safety and happiness. Seeing how similar these two fathers were, despite their different lifestyles was interesting and really highlights how bad parenting crosses both economic, and social class circles.

All in all, Beastly was an enjoyable read for me as it contained the traditional story elements of a favorite fairy tale, mixed in more modern elements, while also touching on some tough topics, such as peer pressure in teens and the relationships between parents and children.

Alex Flinn

About The Author

Alex Flinn loves fairy tales and made her two daughters sit through several dozen versions of “Beauty and the Beast'” while she wrote this book … then quizzed them on how they thought a beast would meet girls in New York City. She is the author of five previous books, including Breathing Underwater, an ALA Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults; Breaking Point, a 2003 ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers; Nothing To Lose, a 2004 ALA Best Book for Young Adults; Fade To Black, a 2006 ALA Best Book for Young Adults nominee; and Diva. She lives in Miami.

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© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.