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Archive for December, 2005

Weetzie Grows Up!


The 12/18 Sunday edition of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle had an interview with Francesca Lia Block, creator of perhaps the hippest chick to ever hit young adult literature — Weetzie Bat. I confess I’d sort of forgotten about Weetzie, until I turned to the Books page in the paper and saw Block sitting there, a dark haired waif all in white, commanding the whole top half of the page. Block is back and is dragging Weetzie with her, although Weetzie is now a grown up 40 year old with two daughters and is about to break up for good with her Secret Agent Lover Man, Max. I’m off to the bookstore tomorrow to find this book. I have to know what’s happened to Weetzie, Max, Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys and all the other colorful characters from Block’s surreal world. In the meantime, I thought I’d resurrect a couple old review I wrote of two of Block’s later books…

I Was a Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia Block

For some reason, Jim Morrison’s L.A. Woman kept going through my head as I read this one. Maybe it’s because Block describes Los Angeles as a “woman reclining billboard model.” Who knows….Anyway, Teenage Fairy is different. Different from the magical unreality of Weetzie Bat and different from the dark fantasy of Hanged Man. But different in a good way. Barbie Markowitz, named for the ubiquitous doll, has little magic in her life until the arrival of Mab, a true, real fairy of the fluttery-gossamer-winged variety, but with a definite edge. Mab has sharp little teeth and a healthy sex drive—certainly not the kind of fairy envisioned by Andrew Lang or even Walt Disney. Mab helps Barbie cope with her crocodile stage mother who pushes her into modeling to make up for her own failed career. The Crocodile puts Barbie into the hands of a slimy photographer who specializes in traumatizing his young subjects. Fast forward a few years (after all, what’s time in a Block novel?!) Where we find Barbie a discontented, frightened, young woman. Mab has stuck with her through the years and pushes Barbie to break with her past and get control of her future. How she does that involves New York, a beautiful boy named Griffin, a delectable biscuit boy named Todd, and a lovely little camera.

Block has refined the wild, funky prose she patented in Weetzie Bat and has added some toned darkness to the magic of life in Southern California. Fans of the earlier Block books might find this one a little bitter to the taste, but it cuts the sweetness of Weetzie nicely.

Girl Goddess #9 by Francesca Lia Block

How can anyone resist a book that has characters named Tweetie Sweet Pea, Pixie, and Pony? I couldn’t and I’m glad because Girl Goddess #9 is a not a book to be missed. I have to confess, though, that I am a devoted fan of Block’s work. I am one of those people who thought Weetzie Bat was the best thing I’d read since The Changeling (Snyder) or The Pinballs (Byars). (Aside to Ellin…I know you’re gagging right now!) So, I would have read Girl Goddess no matter what she named the characters. I was skeptical when I started Goddess because I was disappointed in Block’s most recent addition to the Weetzie saga – Baby Be Bop. I was pleasantly surprised, though, when I opened Goddess and found Block had put together a collection of short stories instead of her usual stream-of-coolness story. Don’t worry…the usual Southern California hipness is still there along with the edgy characters and surreal situations. Block opens the book with Tweetie Sweet Pea’s story which is a little bit of a departure for her. Tweety Sweet Pea appears to be about three or four years old, and the story revolves around her awakening consciousness that she has to grow up. Block writes about how Tweety perceives her world changing and juxtaposes the child’s world view with that of her off-beat parents who find their safe, comfy world disrupted by the suicide of a favorite rock singer. The stories continue in this vein…change and growth seem to be the overwhelming themes in these stories, and Block generally does a good job communicating teen angst. However, some of the stories end abruptly and seem unfinished, like Block is keeping the characters in mind for a full-length book. Despite this one weakness, Girl Goddess #9 is an intriguing book that reads fast. You might be left wanting more, but I’m sure Block will oblige with another story soon.

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Bad Dog: 259 Outspoken, Indecent and Overdressed Dogs by R.D. Rosen, Harry Pritchett, and Rob Battles is very likely one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long, long time. I suppose it doesn’t really even count as reading since it’s a small book of photographs, each captioned with a single sentence, but nonetheless, it’s a book and books are what I blog. I’m taking a chance even writing about it here, since those of you who don’t know me might get the wrong impression once you see some of the pictures in this book. But, I just can’t help myself. If you find humor in photos of dogs in costumes, dogs making funny faces, wet dogs, and sleeping dogs, or if you have ever dressed your dog up, you will appreciate this book. I fully expect this to be followed by Bad Cat, Bad Parakeet, and Bad Ferret. Just a silly little thing to read when you’ve got a few minutes.

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Snakes. Talk about giving me the creeps….snakes’ll do it every time. So it’s a wonder I ever picked this book up. BUT, I’m very glad I did, because it’s one of the strangest and compelling books I’ve read in a long time.

Dusa dreams about snakes. Tiny blue snakes, big gold snakes, snakes writhing all around her head. The dreams put her into fits during which she smacks her mother, froths at the mouth, becomes stiff as a board…literally….and pretty much start to drive her crazy. Until…the Gordon sisters enter the picture. Teno and Yali are well-respected scientists who have devoted their lives to curing “snake dreamers” after their sister died of the affliction. They hook up with Dusa and whisk her away to their uncharted island in the Aegean Sea where she discovers the sisters are much more than what they appear on the surface. Fans of Greek mythology will appreciate this twist on the Medusa story and those of you who just like odd stories will also find this one hard to put down. Gorgons, Medusa and her daughters (some of whom wear “bracelets that hiss”), a beautiful enchanted boy, and girls who turn to stone…what more could you ask for in a story?

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Lately it seems harder and harder for me to find a book that I want to read all the way through. And it’s even more rare to find one that doesn’t make me want to read the end first. *Yes, I am a confessed end-reader. It’s one of the benchmarks I use to determine if a book will find a place on my “you have got to read this one! list” — if I can read the end and still want to read the whole book, it’s got a place on my list.* But, I digress….

Maisie Dobbs is one of those books. I was hooked from the very first page…even from the very first sentence…

Even if she hadn’t been the last person to walk through the turnstile at Warren Street tube station, Jack Barker would have noticed the tall, slender woman in the navy blue, thigh-length jacket with a matching pleated skirt short enough to reveal a well-turned ankle.

What caught me was Maisie’s response to Barker, which, paraphrased indelicately, comes out to her telling Barker that it was, indeed, cold enough to freeze the **** off a brass monkey. What cheek! I liked her right away. We then read on to learn that Maisie lost her mother at 14 and was put into service by her well-meaning father. Fortunately for Maisie, she’s found a place in a very well-advanced household, where, when she is discovered sneaking into the manor library at night to read Hume, Kierkegaard, and Jung, her employer arranges for Maisie to actually be educated by the enigmatic Maurice Blanche. Maisie eventually wins entrance to Cambridge, but cuts her time there short in order to serve in The Great War as a nurse, where she falls in love and experiences terrible tragedy firsthand. After the war, Maisie hangs out her shingle as a “Psychologist-Investigator” and begins to take on cases. Her first case takes her straight back to the war, when she becomes involved with a group of wounded soldiers who live away from society at a place called The Retreat. Maisie discovers the truth about The Retreat, and in the end is face to face with her own horrors from the war.

The characters are well-drawn and, for the most part, likable. It was obvious that this was intended to be the first of a series, because there are many unanswered questions and lots of flashbacks and foreshadowing. I’m looking forward to getting to know Maisie better in the next two books.

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