Molly Ringwald: When It Happens To You

Guest Post By: Brendan

I expected When It Happens To You to be good… for Molly Ringwald, but thought that perhaps from another author it might be considered a disappointment. I was wrong. This is a remarkable work of fiction with glimpses of brilliance.

The work is described as a collection of interlinked stories, but it felt like a novel to me. When It Happens To You is the story of a disintegrating marriage, of betrayal and hope, only briefly touching on the lives of some who interact with the central couple.

The virtuosity of the title segment, which serves as a centerpiece for the book, is at times breathtaking. Here’s a sample…

When it happens to you, you will ask him why he would choose to forsake this good, sweet life that you carefully built together for a girl who couldn’t begin to understand him, and then you’ll realize that is partially the point. He doesn’t want to be understood. He wants to be misunderstood because in the misunderstanding lies the possibility of reinvention.

When It Happens To You is the most pleasant literary surprise of the year.

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Muruch’s Top 10 Books of 2012

After a few years of delving into classic literature and non-fiction adventure books (mostly about exploring the Amazon and Mexican caves), I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy some new novels this year. I didn’t post a book list last year, so I’m including one 2011 release I read this year. Please comment with your favorite reads of 2012!

Muruch’s Top 10 Books of 2012

10. Rachel Joyce: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

A charming, quaint little story about an elderly Englishman’s spontaneous journey on foot to see an ailing friend and the effect his decision has on himself, his wife and everyone he encounters along the way. It would have been my #1 book of the year if not for the second half veering off into Forrest Gump territory.

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9. Charlotte Rogan Virago: The Lifeboat

Set in 1914, a group of survivors in a tiny lifeboat gradually lose all sense of decency and themselves after nearly a month at sea in the aftermath of a sunken ocean liner. As the narrator reveals upfront she’s on trial for murder, you know this ain’t no Titanic.

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8. Natasha Solomons: The House at Tyneford

A classically written novel about a young Jewish refugee who escapes WWII-era Vienna to work as a maid in an English manor. It’s like a romanticized Downton Abbey.

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7. Sarah Sundin: With Every Letter

A melodramatic but sweet WWII-era romance about two military outcasts falling in love through correspondence.

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6. Lynn Austin: Wonderland Creek (2011)

…a charming, cheery little novel…Austin pays homage to Lewis Carroll by dropping her feisty, somewhat spoiled, bookworm heroine, Alice, in a strange, Depression-era, backwoods Appalachia town called Wonderland Creek…one of those uplifting reads that leaves a smile on your face at the end, though you’ll miss that wonderful little world when it’s over.

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5. Theodora Goss: The Thorn & The Blossom

…a romantic fable in unusual binding. This beautiful, open-spined book folds out like an accordion, so you can choose to read Evelyn’s story then flip over to Brendan’s perspective (or vice versa) as they meet in a bookstore, fall in love, are torn apart and attempt to find their way back to each other.

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4. Graham Joyce: The Silent Land

An unusual fantasy of a couple who miraculously survive an avalanche while skiing only to find the French village they are staying in completely deserted and eerily silent when they return. A chain of strange events and their inability to escape the village lead the couple to question the very world they live in.

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3. Ron Rash: The Cove

Rash certainly imagines some extraordinary plots. Had his 2009 novel, Serena, been released this year, it would also be on this list. Set in WW1-era Appalachia, The Cove tells of a lonely, outcast girl who falls in love with a mysterious, mute stranger who carries a secret of his own.

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2. Victoria Hislop: The Thread

Another exquisite, multi-cultural, multi-generational tale by Victoria Hislop, who just may be the finest writer alive. Her stories are always a rich, tightly woven, unparalleled tapestry of language.

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1. Kate Morton: The Secret Keeper

…truly a page turner…Morton deftly takes us back and forth from the blitz of WWII-era London through the 1960′s and into the modern age, weaving a universe of mystery and suspense all along the way…so well designed and executed that, for once, the twist at the end took me completely by surprise.

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Theodora Goss: The Thorn & the Blossom

Muruch‘s Vic and Brendan popped into our local independent bookstore/cafe, Taylor Books, Friday night for some coffee and books. While Brendan nabbed a Roddy Doyle novel, Vic browsed for the fiction shelves for something new and unknown. The gold-lettered title The Thorn & the Blossom by Theodora Goss was shining under the twinkle lights on the top shelf. The small green and gold hardback book itself was unusually lovely and the “two-sided love story” contained within its pages was compelling enough to read in one evening.

The Thorn & the Blossom is a romantic fable in unusual binding. This beautiful, open-spined book folds out like an accordion, so you can choose to read Evelyn’s story then flip over to Brendan’s perspective (or vice versa) as they meet in a bookstore, fall in love, are torn apart and attempt to find their way back to each other. I personally read Evelyn’s story first, then Brendan’s, but the story will work either way.

I usually dislike such publishing gimmicks and the lack of binding does require careful handling, but this book reminded me of Nick Bantok’s Griffin & Sabine. The story and characters are imaginative enough to make it an enchanting reading experience.

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The City of Your Final Destination

I had never even heard of The City of Your Final Destination until I was browsing my local video store last weekend. After seeing the film, I’m astounded that it wasn’t at least nominated for an Oscar. Based on the novel by Peter Cameron and directed by James Ivory, The City of Your Final Destination stars Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney and Charlotte Gainsburg as the brother, widow, and lover of a deceased, one hit wonder author named Jules Gund. The three have become trustees of the author’s estate and reside together in the author’s house in Uruguay. Aspiring literature professor Omar Razaghi (played by Omar Metwally) travels to Uruguay in hopes of convincing the peculiar trio of heirs to authorize his biography of the author.

The story that follows Omar’s arrival in Uruguay is rife with difficult romantic entanglements, familial drama, and moments of almost poetic poignancy that completely alter the lives of the central characters.

Omar soon finds his own life becoming so bound up with his new acquaintances that he begans to question the original purpose of his journey as well as the overall direction of his life and career. Meanwhile, his unexpected and initially unwelcome presence disturbs the fragile peace of the heirs’ unusual co-existence, forcing each of them to reexamine their relationships with their lost author and with each other.

In the end, each must choose between continuing with the safe status quo of their respective lives or facing the terrifying challenges and exhilarating possibilities of change.

Wide, panoramic shots of the picturesque setting blend Merchant Ivory‘s signature sophisticated elegance with the atmospheric beauty of films like Stealing Beauty and Before Sunset. Yet the intimate, almost Chekhovian plot and subtle, emotive performances by the actors – particularly that of Charlotte Gainsburg – keep the film grounded in a lovely but very human imperfection.

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Kurt Vonnegut & Dave Soldier: Ice-9 Ballads

Ice-9 Ballads is the new soundtrack to Kurt Vonnegut‘s classic novel Cat’s Cradle. A 1997 collaboration between the late, great author Vonnegut and composer Dave Soldier, the album features nine tracks that were directly inspired by the book. I didn’t know quite what to expect when I first received it, but I can’t imagine a more perfect score for my favorite novel of all time.

Kurt Vonnegut adapted the lyrics himself from his novel Cat’s Cradle, and named the songs after chapter titles in the book. Dave Soldier composed and arranged the melodies, which capture the delightfully bizarre mood of the novel. The songs are fleshed out beautifully by The Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, Tiye’ Giraud, Jimmy Justice, and Valarie Naranjo on the African balaphone.

“Annihilation Life” opens in a mellow, old-fashioned blend of bluegrass, jazz, and classical styles akin to Pianafiddle. “Dyot Meet Mat” follows with a buoyant, chiming Caribbean vibe.

Vonnegut narrates several songs in a cool, spoken word manner reminiscent of William S. Burroughs. This vocal style is particularly used well in the standout track “Nice, Nice, Very Nice”, the lyrics of which were culled from Bokonon’s “Fifty-third Calypso” in Cat’s Cradle. The song swirls and chirps like a psychedelic Talking Heads number accented with dramatic orchestration and a choir of female voices that remind me of Cibo Matto.

“Duo for Clarinet & Meade Lux Lewis” returns to the vintage style of the opener with a splash of classic piano blues, then “14th Calypso” stirs a light hint of Gospel into Island instrumentation.

Also included on the disc is “A Soldier’s Story”, which was recorded in the style of a 1940s radio broadcast. The song is based on a text by Vonnegut that was inspired by the death of Private Eddie Slovik, the only American soldier to be executed for cowardice during World War II. Vonnegut voices the General in the piece, which again features music composed by Dave Soldier. DJ Phil Schaap fittingly plays “The Radio Announcer”, Dina Emerson is “The Red Cross Girl”, Wilbur Pauley is “The MP”, and Brad Hougham portrays “The Soldier.”

“East St. Louis, 1968″ closes the album with the tale of a young viola player’s first trip to the city. But it is undoubtedly the first literature-inspired portion of the disc that will certainly push it toward the top of my end of year list.

Kurt Vonnegut & Dave Soldier – Dyot Meet Mat (mp3) *
Kurt Vonnegut & Dave Soldier – Duo for Clarinet & Meade Lux Lewis (mp3) *

*mp3s hosted by Mulatta Records

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