For Richer, for Poorer

14 Nov

For Richer, for Poorer: A Million-Dollar Love Affair with Poker, by Victoria Coren 2009

Jan flat calls. I know at once he has a small pair … The flop comes 9♠ 10♥ 10. If I move all-in and Jan calls with his pair of fives – this is what I’m putting him on – I am in reasonable shape with two overcards. I can hit a jack or an ace, the board could pair again, plus there is the glimmer of a backdoor straight draw.

When I first started For Richer, for Poorer, this kind of passage made almost no sense to me. And when I’d finished the book, I still had little idea of what the hell it all meant. Poker for Dummies this ain’t.

So what is For Richer, for Poorer? Well, it’s an entertaining memoir of a poker player climbing the ranks, and a short history of poker in the past couple of decades in England. It also looks at what it’s like to be a female player, starting with the time the author was one of only two female visitors to the local mini casino, to the dawn of poker TV shows where she was the token girl player, and on to her eventual win at an international tournament.

Yes, there are descriptions of poker games that go for pages and pages – and I was so worried I’d miss a vital plot point that I read them all (spoiler: I really could have skipped them). But the book also features some fantastic characterisation – Victoria Cohen has a great eye for the quirky people that populate the all-night games in back rooms and casino dens, the celebs who got in on the action early, and the big superstars (including Australia’s own Joe Hachem, winner of the 2005 World Series of Poker).

But the book isn’t just all poker, all the time. When Victoria’s father falls ill she’s very honest about her feelings, leading to some very emotional scenes, and when a major relationship fails she touches on her resulting depression. Being a Female of a Certain Age, she also writes about the idea of starting a family – or not:

I’m still free from domestic responsibility. I have no idea whether I haven’t got round to starting a family because I play poker all the time, or whether I play poker all the time because I haven’t got round to starting a family. But I do and I haven’t.

Among all this, there were some things that didn’t quite work for me. The most grating was the repeated use of Alice in Wonderland imagery as Victoria paints herself as Alice down the rabbithole. Yes, she’s a fish out of water as she plays poker with dodgy old men in the early hours of the morning, but I didn’t need the repeated analogy. There was enough in the story without it.

Overall though, For Richer, for Poorer was an interesting read. I may still know very little about how to play the game itself, but I met some very interesting characters along the way – including a pretty cool chick who kicked some male poker ass along the way. Good for her.

This was the last book in my MS Novel Challenge… I just took forever to review it.

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Banned Books Week

27 Sep

It’s Banned Books Week, so let’s do an old fashioned book parade! Dress up like your favourite book character… I bags being Dawn from The Baby-sitters Club! (That used to be my old standby – we both had long blonde hair so it was easy.)

Okay, no, the aforementioned parade is actually a Book Week activity, which is an entirely different animal. From September 24 to October 1, America (and therefore the world?) holds Banned Books Week to draw attention to censorship by hosting a variety of events, both IRL and online.

So what kind of books have been banned in the past? Well, you name it – if it has a story, it seems to have pissed someone off somewhere, what with its religious viewpoints, unsuitability to its age group, anti-family values, sexually explicit material, offensive language, violence and homosexuality (oh my, what a book THAT would be).

The list of challenged books is pretty interesting, and the American Library Association has a great database, listing them by year, author and decade. Then there’s the list of challenged classics: of the Top 100 from the Radcliffe Top Novels of the 20th Century, at least 46% have been challenged. In fact, of the top 15, 12 have been protested (crossed out below) – yes, people have had to fight to keep these books in libraries and schools:

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  6. Ulysses by James Joyce
  7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  9. 1984 by George Orwell
  10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  11. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
  12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  13. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  15. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Scary, huh? Imagine how bland the literary world would be without these wonders floating around out there. I’m trying to avoid using emoticons in these posts, but sometimes you just need to use a sad face 😦

If you’re a fan of not having your reading list dictated to you by a crazy minority group, you might want to take part in the BWB YouTube channel. It features people reading snippets of books that have been challenged at one time or another – you can just watch other people’s or upload your own. There are famous readers, like Whoopi Goldberg, and people like this guy, who’s reading The Lorax (challenged because it “criminalises the foresting industry”… yes, really). It’s strangely addictive.

 

John Dies at the End

26 Sep

John Dies at the End by David Wong, 2009

... or does he?John said the thing was as tall as the truck and walked on six legs that looked horned and armoured, like something seen at a seafood buffet. But there was a part that had the feel of a mammal, too, fur and arms. Please remember that from John’s distance the beast would have been the size of a dime, so I won’t criticize his crab-riding monkey description even though we all know it’s retarded.

That passage sums up David Wong’s John Dies at the End pretty well. There’s the horror element of the weird monster thing, and there’s the humour of a guy talking crap about his best mate. And if I were to sum up the book in two words, ‘horror’ and ‘humour’ would be the ones I’d use.

But that would be a ridiculously short review, and we all know I like to go on about these books. So too bad – get ready for more words!

So yeah, horror. I love horror movies and used to devour whatever Stephen King books I could get my hands on (now, I’m not such a fan of his work – sadly, Mr King lost me a while ago). I very rarely get spooked by scary movies, but this book gave me the creeps, y’all. Even now, days after I finished it, some of the images pop into my head when I walk into my bedroom without turning the light on first. I just know there’s something crouching in the dark with a hideous half animal/half human face, ready to attack me… and that’s just my sister! (Couldn’t resist, sorry.)

It’s all based around a drug called soy sauce, which opens users’ minds to other levels of consciousness. But then there are flying wig-monsters with baby hands, scorpion tails and a handful of eyes, as well as beings that gather in the shadows, a monster made of meat, and an ancient evil named Korrok which is trying to take over the world. And it’s up to the protagonist and his friend John to save us all.

It’s as crazy as that sounds, but it actually works. There are monsters galore, love and lust, a trip to Vegas, time/multidimensional travel, beer drinking, computer games, and a dog that just can’t die.

And the writing! Oh my, the writing. David Wong is a freaking genius. He’s a senior editor at Cracked, one of my favourite humour sites, so it’s not surprising that he can bring the funny. (Interested parties should read the background of the book – it was first written as an internet series, and is now being turned into a movie starring Paul Giamatti.) But he can also create amazingly accurate and clever images for the reader. As such:

And so, feeling like men trying to work a jigsaw puzzle blindfolded and using only our butt cheeks to grip the pieces, we left.

Sometimes it’s not so G-rated, but still manages to be quite eloquent:

Fuck that. Fuck that idea like the fucking captain of the Thai Fuck Team fucking at the Fucking Tour de Fuck.

Oh, and the next time you go to sleep, try NOT to think about this image:

Somebody said my name, asked if I was okay. I didn’t answer, the sound of the commotion dying around me as the heavy monkey of sleep rested its warm, furry ass on my eyelids.

Heavy monkey of sleep and his warm, furry ass, indeed.

This was another installment in my MS Novel Challenge. Sponsor me?

 

Fame

21 Sep

Fame by Tilly Bagshawe, 2011

The captivating FameI don’t know what to say about Tilly Bagshawe’s Fame. There’s just so much wrong with it – the writing, the plot, the cover, the blurb. But it’s a trashy beach read, so what did I expect? Wuthering Heights?*

It’s all very Jackie Collins-esque. Set around the filming and promotion of a Massive Hollywood Movie, the book is populated with several apparently jaw-droppingly gorgeous film stars, powerful directors, bitter wives, and a quiet but determined girl who doesn’t know how beautiful and wonderful she truly is. There are sex scenes in which women orgasm at a single touch, and, conversely, romantic scenes in which couples get engaged before even making it to first base.

There’s also writing like this:

“All you need to be fighting for is your strength,” said Dorian soberly, marvelling for the thousandth time at Sabrina’s limitless ambition. Even with a broken heart, and having just emerged from a coma, she was thinking about her next career move.

See? A coma! And a plucky comeback from a coma! That’s the mark of a quality read if ever there was one.

By the way, the blurb doesn’t seem to be about this book – I don’t think whoever wrote it has actually read Fame. It mentions three – yes, THREE! – events that aren’t in the book. Come ON Tilly Bagshawe! Did you really sign off on this? You, who wrote the following sexy, sexy passage?

Her hair spread out across the bedspread like an arc of peacock feathers, and her breasts rose and fell beneath the delicate lace of her bra like two ripe peaches quivering on a tree.

(Ah yes, the peacock-feathered quivering peach tree. I know it well.)

Also, the woman on the front cover doesn’t resemble anyone in the book.

But Fame is what it is. Yeah, it’s trashy, but I admit I was compelled to make it to the end so I could find out what the hell happened to the characters (and yes, it was just as odd as I’d hoped).

So… well played, Tilly, well played.

*This is an in-joke, as the movie they’re filming is actually an adaptation of Wuthering Heights. The 0% of my readership who have read Fame would know that.

This was another installment in my MS Novel Challenge series. Sponsor me?

Awww…

14 Sep

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chicken-related post, so here’s a photo for you. Adorbz!

Cute cute cute!

Insert obligatory "hot chick on p***y" joke here (if you're that way inclined)...

This one’s not a chicken, but it is a bird. Look at the mum! She’s got all her babies on her back! And she’s yelling at them to just hurry up and get on her so they can leave already, goddamnit!

A swanback of goslings

Damned

13 Sep

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk, 2011

Chuck Palahniuk Damned What’s hell to you? Is it an author who uses a handful of literary devices over and over again until you want to throw his damn book across the room? A book that’s probably trying to go somewhere, but you’re not sure, and you’re confused about the point it’s trying to make for a reeeeally long time? Okay, these aren’t hellish exactly, but goshdarnit if they aren’t really annoying by the end of a novel.

Anyway, those points aside, Chuck Palahniuk offers a pretty good idea of hell. It’s all grimy and gross, and the landscape is dotted with features such as the Great Ocean of Wasted Sperm, Mountain of Toenail Clippings and Swamp of Partial-birth Abortions. Demons roam, torturing then devouring the souls they encounter (naturally, the torn-apart bodies reassemble themselves, the damned unable to ever escape their fate).

Oh, and those annoying market research calls you get at dinnertime? They’re made by people in hell who are just doing their job.

I’m a fan of the Chuckmeister – I like his voice and the way he seemingly always sets out to jar people out of their everyday existences. And I did enjoy this book. The narrator, Madison, is quite likable: she’s a recently deceased 13-year-old girl, the daughter of a billionaire and a movie star, who was on that weird border of being interested in boys but not really knowing what to do with them anyway. She tells the story of her life – and, eventually, her death – with a charming mix of innocence and precociousness.

But sometimes there was just too much imaginative detail about hell thrown in, making me wonder if the story was actually going anywhere. Some parts just seemed to drag: a lengthy chunk was devoted to a single encounter with a giant demon (and the description of one of Madison’s friends giving said giant demon oral pleasure). It wasn’t even a very exciting encounter (in spite of the giant oral sex action). It was lucky I was really hungover so I was physically unable to do anything other than read on the day I picked this up, or I may have put it aside for a while.

Anyway, drifting plotlines aside, was there an eventual payoff? Yes. Was it worth it? Well… yeah, actually, it was. The Chuckster does love a bit of a twist, and the one finally offered in Damned was pretty sweet. And in the end, I was wondering if all that meandering had been on purpose after all. That crafty bastard.

This was the third book in my MS Novel Challenge. Sponsor me?

Dedication: the cover (and its four thrilling sequels)

8 Sep

Why does one book need five versions of the cover? Okay, once it hit New York Times bestseller status (WTF?) it could have used an update telling everyone how great (?) it was. But what’s the explanation for the others?

For the record, the copy I reviewed features the half-girl looking up while posing on an overstuffed suitcase.

Why so many covers, Dedication?

Sooo… which do you prefer?