Monday, April 26, 2010

A Little Bit Wicked / Kristin Chenoweth

Kristin Chenoweth is perhaps best known for originating the role of Galinda in the smash-hit Broadway musical Wicked -- a performance that earned her a Tony nomination in 2004. Prior to that, she had won a Tony for playing Sally in You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. She has also appeared in numerous television shows and movies.

One review I read of this book questioned why Chenoweth released a memoir so early in her career, but from reading the book I can assure you she has accomplished enough and had enough life experience to make for a great read. What I most appreciated was getting to look behind the curtain so to speak, to see what the life of a performer is really like. It may sound glamorous, but it's hard work, day in and day out. At times it seems that Chenoweth takes care of herself and her voice in much the same way an Olympic athlete would take care of his or her body.

Another thing this book has going for it is Chenoweth's upbeat attitude and her sense of humor. This is a woman who knows how to turn lemons into lemonade. Like the hilarious "Cooter Smash" incident I read aloud in class, about how Chenoweth fractured her coccyx while performing at Opryland and ever since has had the ability to predict the weather with her "hoo hoo." You get a sense while reading this book that Chenoweth is quite the comedienne.

Lastly, there are some amazing stories of serendipity in this memoir. Like how she was placed in her adoptive family and how she ended up on Broadway instead of studying opera at a prestigious school in Pennsylvania. For people of faith (and Chenoweth is one), these are encouraging stories of how God puts everything together behind the scenes.

With all these appeals, this book is definitely one I would recommend, but probably only to Broadway musical enthusiasts at this point in time. Chenoweth has the potential to become a household name, but until that day comes, this book probably appeals only to a niche audience.

Dream When You're Feeling Blue / Elizabeth Berg

Recently, I've been interested in finding out what it was like to live in the 1940s, so when I read a description of this novel in our textbook, I decided I had to read it right away.

It's about an Irish family -- the Heaneys -- who live in the Chicago area during WWII. The story is told in third person from the point of view of Kitty, the second of the five children who all live together with their parents in a three-bedroom house, and the plot really focuses on Kitty and her two sisters, who range in age from around 16 to early 20s. The book begins with Kitty and her elder sister, Louise, saying goodbye to their men who are going off to war. Since letter-writing is a daily activity in their lives, the narrative includes numerous letters as the plot unfolds.

I enjoyed this book overall. It does provide a sense of the sacrifices people made during the war. Imagine having to go without sugar, for instance. Margaret (the mother) is as creative as can be, but at every meal there's an awareness that they miss the meat they used to have, etc. That so large a family lives in a three-bedroom is another period detail, as are things like nightly letter writing and adult women living with their parents. (I love my parents, but I've lived independently since fall 1998 and can't imagine living in a society where the norm is you live with your parents until you're married.) Oh, and receiving the label "spinster" even though you're still in your 20s. Yikes.

The book also has some great romantic elements. A soldier named Hank meets Kitty at a USO dance and begins pursuing her despite the fact that Kitty has a boyfriend. This wooing is a gripping story because it becomes clear that Kitty never was really "into" her boyfriend, but in getting to know Hank she has an awakening of desire that's exciting to witness.

However, I really felt gypped by the way this novel ended. I won't spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that not every character gets a happy ending. That's okay in certain kinds of books and when the author prepares you for it, but in this case what happened felt like a curve ball that hit me from out of nowhere. It was enough of a letdown that I sort of threw the book (tossed, more like) across the sofa when I finished it. So, in the end, I would not recommend this book to others.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Four to Score / Janet Evanovich

For the first several weeks of this semester, it seemed like the name Janet Evanovich came up every class. I had never read her, so I picked this book in order to see what all the fuss was about. I wasn't disappointed.

For the uninitiated: Four to Score is book 4 in Evanovich's mystery series starring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. Following Stephanie's hunt for yet another person who's jumped bail is kind of like watching the Three Stooges on a paint crew -- you know it's going to be a big mess. Because this likable but not-quite-put-together heroine manages to get into one scrape after another. Her house catches fire, her car blows up ... you name it, it's probably happened to Stephanie. But she always manages to overcome such obstacles and snag her bail-jumper in the end.

This is not a gentle read -- it contains obscenities and some sex. I'm not easily offended, but I was not sure I was going to get into the book when on page 3 Stephanie describes having caught someone "bare-assed on my dining room table, playing hide-the-salami with my husband." That's not an image I want in my head. But it didn't take much longer for her sarcastic narrator voice to grow on me, and once I reached that point, I was hooked.

One of this book's big appeals is its humor -- I literally did laugh out loud several times while reading it. And it has a lively cast of characters -- like Lula the retired prostitute (a large African American woman), Sally the professional transvestite (a dude who looks like a lady), and Stephanie's 73-year-old grandma. You can imagine Stephanie and her entourage turning many heads as they look for bail-jumpers around Trenton, on the Jersey shore, in Atlantic City, and elsewhere.

Above all, perhaps, reading Evanovich is a great escape. Doesn't matter much what you're escaping from. So, for me, the next time I'm feeling tired of the tediousness of everyday life, I might just crack open a book and hang out in Stephanie's world -- because there's never a dull moment there.